March 31st, 2009
07:10 PM ET
14 years ago

Senate Dems move closer to controversial budget procedure

WASHINGTON (CNN) - In a sign that Senate Democrats may be close to adopting a special budget procedure to speed passage of President Obama's health care and global warming legislation, a key Democratic senator said Tuesday that he is not ruling out using the controversial method of "reconciliation."

"It could happen," said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, despite his repeated concerns that doing so would damage bipartisan cooperation in the Senate.

The fast-track procedure would prevent Republicans from filibustering the health care and global warming bills which the Finance Committee helps to write.

"Reconciliation is not my first choice. It's not my second choice," Baucus said, but then added, "I'm not flat opposed to it either."

Baucus is the second key Senate Democrat in two days to suggest the controversial procedure might be used to pass the policy reforms over GOP objections.

On Monday, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad suggested he might not be able to prevent the adoption of reconciliation. Like Baucus, Conrad has spoken out against using the method to move major reform bills.

House Democratic leaders and the White House have expressed interest in using reconciliation, as have key Senate Democratic leaders like Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"I don't know why everyone is up in arms," Reid said, explaining to reporters that reconciliation has been used 19 times in recent years by Congresses controlled by both parties.

The nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department was pressed about the issue at her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

"There is an interest in not taking any tools off the table, prematurely," Kathleen Sebelius told Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who compared reconciliation to a "declaration of war."

Also Tuesday, a letter signed by all Republican senators was distributed to Democratic Hill leaders urging them to forgo reconciliation to pass health care. Use of the method, said the letter, "would make it difficult, if not impossible, to gain broad, bipartisan support" for the bill.

The House and Senate are expected to pass their separate versions of the budget by the end of the week.The effort to merge the two bills will take place in the next few weeks, with final passage expected by the end of April.

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