February 28th, 2010
03:03 PM ET
13 years ago

Lawmakers brace for reconciliation showdown

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/28/art.2shotpelosi0228.cnn.jpg caption="In an interview that aired Sunday on CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Republicans will have left their imprint on the final health care reform bill even though there likely won't be any GOP votes in support of it."]
Washington (CNN) - With last week's health care summit showing no sign of getting either side to budge, lawmakers Sunday staked out positions in the battle many believe is imminent: a presidential effort to push legislation through without Republican support.

On the political talk shows, Democratic and GOP leaders fought over budget reconciliation, the parliamentary procedure that could allow a vote in the Senate and circumvent a GOP filibuster.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told CNN's "State of the Union" that he and other lawmakers "do not think something of this magnitude ought to be jammed down the throats of a public that doesn't want it through this kind of device."

Related video: McConnell on reconciliation

And Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, told ABC's "This Week" that "It would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through."

But Democrats cast it as a chance to enact critical reforms. "We'd really like to get a bipartisan bill," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, told "FOX News Sunday." "In the absence of that," he added, the maneuver could help the country "move forward on health care reform."

The controversial tactic allows a measure to pass on a simple majority vote of 51, rather than the 60 needed to break a filibuster.

Facing staunch Republican opposition, and having lost a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate with the election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, President Obama has been considering turning to budget reconciliation.

"He's going to have more to say later this week how he thinks is the best way to move forward," Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

If the reconciliation tactic is used, it technically would not be on the full package of reforms.

"Reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee, told CBS' "Face the Nation." He added, "It won't work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation."

But under the scenario Democrats are considering, the procedure could prove to be the key to enacting the full package of reforms.

To get to the president's desk, a bill must first win passage in the House and Senate. Last year, the two chambers voted - and passed - different versions of the bill. They differ on key points.

Democratic sources have told CNN the general plan is for the House to now pass the version that the Senate passed last year with 60 votes. Meanwhile, negotiators in both chambers would agree to a separate package of changes to that legislation. That package would go before the Senate under reconciliation rules.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not describe how a reconciliation scenario might play out. But she said, "When we have a bill, which we will in a matter of days, then that is the bill that we can sell."

Pelosi also sought to remove some of the stigma that might accompany legislation passed entirely by one party with no bipartisan support.

"The bill can be bipartisan even though the votes might not be bipartisan, because they [Republicans] have made their imprint on this," she told CNN's "State of the Union."

Pelosi noted that the final bill likely would not include a government-run public health insurance option, a provision vigorously opposed by congressional Republicans but supported by liberal Democrats.

"We went into the legislative process - hundreds of hours of hearings and bill writing and all the rest - where the Republicans made their suggestions," Pelosi told CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. "We know that one of the reasons we didn't have a bill in the fall is because the president wanted to give the Senate more time to arrive at bipartisanship in the Senate bill, which he thought might be possible then."

She added, "And so what we've had is the year of trying to strive for bipartisanship - as I say, over 100 Republican amendments in the bill."

DeParle, the White House point person on health care reform, expressed confidence. "I believe that we will have the votes to pass this in Congress," she told NBC. "I believe that the president will keep fighting and that the American people want to have this kind of health reform."

Budget reconciliation was established in 1974 to make it easier for the Senate to pass bills that would lower the nation's deficit. Since then, it has been used to vote on various other issues. In total, the procedure has been used 22 times, and every president since Jimmy Carter has signed into law bills achieved through reconciliation.

Reconciliation language involving health care was included in the 2010 budget - to some controversy at the time - so the procedure could be invoked in this case.

The White House has noted, accurately, that every Republican senator who took part in last week's health care summit has voted for a reconciled bill in the past.

But Republicans say that doesn't justify its use for such sweeping legislation.

"Just because it has been used before for lesser issues doesn't mean it's appropriate for this issue," McConnell, R-Kentucky, told CNN.

And Alexander - who likely had the most fiery language of the day with the "kamikaze" quote - said that if the bill passes through reconciliation, a new set of headaches begin for Democrats. "Then for the rest of the year," he told ABC, "we're going to be involved in a campaign to repeal it."

Filed under: Congress • Extra • Health care • Popular Posts • Senate • State of the Union
soundoff (210 Responses)
  1. Jack

    Come on now Democrats let just, GETTER DONE!!!

    February 28, 2010 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    The Dems sold our country down the river with union laws that gutted our manufacturing industry and exempted unions from extortion prosecution. Now the Dems are trying to sell us out to big Pharma wherein they won't have to compete for Medicare bids. Our legislature on both sides of the aisle is for sale 24/7. Check out the financial statements of our senators before and after their political careers.. Our system is broken beyond repair. Whatever America was in our dreams it no longer is.

    February 28, 2010 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  3. Jim Rapp

    The Dems sold our country down the river with union laws that gutted our manufacturing industry and exempted unions from extortion prosecution. Now the Dems are trying to sell us out to big Pharma wherein they won't have to compete for Medicare bids. Our legislature on both sides of the aisle is for sale 24/7. Check out the financial statements of our senators before and after their political careers.. Our system is broken beyond repair. Whatever America was in our dreams it no longer is.

    February 28, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  4. GuyInVA

    Once again the democrat party knows what's best for us. The average American is far too uneducated to understand the overall benefits of this bill. As the President said, he takes blame only for not explaining the bill well enough (or simply enough) for us rubes. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said it needed to be presented in more digestible bites (or "understandable" bites). I'm so embarrassed for not turning over every aspect of my life to the super intelligent elitists on the left. It's okay though, they'll just TAKE control of everyone's life.

    "Since we couldn't get you to eat this crap sandwich of a health care reform bill, we repackaged it in this handy dandy, easy use suppository."

    Is it still health care reform, or are we back to health insurance reform? I forget who the villain of the day is. Oh well, po-TAY-to, po TAH-to (or global warming, climate change)... let's call the whole thing off.

    February 28, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  5. Carlos

    They don't have the votes and they know it, this is just grandstanding and wishing. This is political suicide and they know it. Obamy is a one term lame duck and he knows it already so he doesn't care what happens, he will be content to live off the American people the rest of his sorry days.

    February 28, 2010 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  6. NotALemming

    "But Democrats cast it as a chance to enact critical reforms."


    Reconciliation only allows the budgetary parts of the bill to go through. Banning lifetime limits and the denying of insurance to those with pre-existing conditions? NO GO. So all this would accomplish is a bunch of extra spending, without anything to actually benefit anyone!

    February 28, 2010 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  7. Ada-Mount Pocono,pa

    They tried to get a bipartisan vote- but it did not work with the party of 'NO' so RECONCILIATION all the way Baby!

    We need healthcate NOW. The republicans don't want it because they are in partnership/pockets of the insurance companies.

    In fact what they should do is NOT have healthcare coverage for ANYONE that doesn't vote for it- maybe then they will understand what it feels like to be sick and have no way of getting better.


    February 28, 2010 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  8. Pragmatic

    Of the 16 times in recent history that reconciliation has been used – the republicans have used it 14 times – democrats – twice.

    Why does reconciliation = "ramming" only when used by the Democrats? If health care reform fails, all those currently happy with their coverage will continue to receive rate increases (letters have already started to arrive) – those with pre-existing conditions will be refused coverage, emergency room use & cost will skyrocket.

    Move slowly? Throwing a 10' rope to a man in quicksand 50' from shore doesn't help: next year will be too late for the 20' rope.

    February 28, 2010 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  9. joan burger

    The present administration has no desire to "serve the people:" of the USA. They are there strictly for the money and the POWER. They do not ask what the general public wants or needs and they definitely are not listening. They are mad with POWER and SPENDING. I am just waiting for the next election. I am no longer a Democrat.

    February 28, 2010 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  10. joel

    It's obvious the Dems don't really care about what the majority of Americans want. If the present Senate health care plan is passed, it will be tied up in the courts. There is no way the Constitution provides Congress with the authority to force people to buy health insurance coverage. Furthermore, the planned legislation is particularly harmful to those on medicare who need coverage more than other age groups.

    Regardless, pass or not, 2010 will result in a Republican landslide and Obama will be a one term president. He will not even be elected in the Democratic primary — replaced by Hillary Clinton who would have been a much better choice than the present presidential idiot.

    February 28, 2010 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
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