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. Grace

    Are Democrats tone deaf? Did they not hear from the Feb. 25 meeting that Republicans DO want health care reform? If they really want bipartisanship, they should take the baby steps as Republicans have suggested. But I really don't think they want bipartisanship; they had the meeting for a show and are now the liberals are taking the "It's my way or the highway" mentality. Show bipartisanship, Democrats. We can get health INSURANCE reform passed. Leave coverage up to the individual states. What's wrong with that? Nothing except that it doesn't give the Democrats the CONTROL they want. Democrats want to be in control of everything.

    February 28, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  2. Jinny Lee

    They are not "jamming" it through......it's been "step by step" but the GOP are more interested in representing the insurance companies than the people. The hell with them! Majority rules!

    February 28, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  3. Sigh

    If that happens the Dems can kiss their careers goodbye and if they don't tread lightly, the entire party! It's one thing to push things through but when these said "things" are something people feel so passionately about (especially when they are AGAINST IT), you can't "push" them through without some sort of support and not expect to pay the consequences. I just don't understand the President's stubborness on this one. Of course, I don't understand much of what he's done in the past year. I pray for the future. I really do.

    And people wonder why Dems don't get control in Washington very often!

    February 28, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |

    During the election, Republicans where all saying that the "world would come to an end" if Obama was elected. It didn't.

    Now they are saying that our broken medical system would come to an end if it is changed. It won't!

    The Democrats got in to power to pass a health care package!
    If they don't, the same people will vote them out of power.


    February 28, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  5. America First

    I am all for reconciliation. I hope the Democrats prevail. It is glaringly obvious that the GOP wants to do nothing at all about healthcare. Our policy just went up another $125 per month and on top of that they stopped covering my son's medication which will now cost me an additional $137 per month. Then I have to read in the newspaper that my health insurance provider has had "record profits" yet again. I can't afford to keep paying for the health insurance CEO bonuses. Anything that the Democrats can do to at least START insurance reform (the public option would be ideal, but at this point I will take any reform) has my whole-hearted approval.

    February 28, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  6. John

    There's no better emblem of what the Republicans stand for and how they behave than Senator Bunning's roadblock against extending unemployment benefits. Clearly the only way to govern this country at all is to do it without them. They entire strategy has been rule-or-ruin from the beginning.

    February 28, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  7. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    It will be bipartisan if those Democrats who oppose the bill vote to pass the healthcare reform bill. Remember some Democrats have voiced openly they are not on board and to bring them on board makes it a bipartisan vote, if they don't then it becomes nonbipartians vote.

    February 28, 2010 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  8. Spamlander

    Do it already!

    February 28, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  9. Charlie in Maine

    I never thoght I would quote GW Bush but here goes:

    Bring it on!

    February 28, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |

    But jamming through the Bush tax cuts and jamming through the Medicare perscription drug plan with no way of paying for it was ok with the Republicans I SAY JAM AWAY DEMOCRATS!

    February 28, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  11. normajean

    Bi Partisan is "yesterday". Obviously the Repubs have NO intention of working with the president , so lets get on with it and get it done. As we have been told recently, it can be done despite the" obstructionists" across the aisle. What I can't understand is ,surely there must be a tremendous number of Republican families without jobs and health care.Don't the Boehners, Cantors and other Repub. leaders even care about their own?Let the Democrats finally do it. We care.

    February 28, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  12. Kirsten

    I love how the WH still believes that the American people want THIS reform. Even after the townhall meetings, the polls and the general outcry that has resulted. Yet somehow the people still want it. Can anyone say out of touch?

    February 28, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  13. john

    It is about time. They should have done through reconciliation last year.

    February 28, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  14. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, NC

    "It would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through."

    Yeah, Alexander got that right.

    "In the absence [a bipartisan bill]," [Menendez said], [reconciliation] could help the country "move forward on health care reform."

    That's the problem: The idiot Dems actually think that socialising medicine is a "move forward." Turning health care over government? Bureaucracy, overwhelming inefficiency, all the concern and caring of an IRS agent that makes insurance companies look positively friendly. Yeah, we really need that.

    The only people who want what the Dems are pushing are the chronic losers who want to freeload on the rest of us, and the politicians who pander to the losers.

    February 28, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  15. GI Joe

    It's not Ramming or Jamming - it was done in 2001 ad 2003 by the republicans to get the biggest tax cuts ever – for the wealthy. How are those jobs and that trickle down working for you?

    Health care has already passed in the Senate by 60 votes. If the House passes the same thing, it's done.

    Then the necessary fixes can be put in place by reconciliation to further save $$.

    Read people – don't just listen to weekly talking points.

    By the way, some of the fixes that will be passed by reconciliation were recommended by the very republicans that WILL vote against it.

    February 28, 2010 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  16. poulose

    A simple majority is enough.
    Go for it.

    February 28, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  17. Michael, Gallatin, TN

    Lamar Alexander should be proud of himself. He represents a state that has some of the weakest labor laws in the nation, elementary and secondary level schools that consistently under achieve, a population that is among the nation's most obese, and a Republican led state legislature that instead of devoting itself to addressing any of the wide ranging problems facing Tennessee and Tennesseans, spends its time trying to pass bills allowing guns in bars and city parks and putting teenagers who have sex on the states sexual predator registries. What a perfect champion for the GOP mission to further destroy the country.

    February 28, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  18. valwayne

    In the Arrogance and total contempt for working people, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid are going to try and jam this corrupt, multi-trillion dollar monstrosity down the throats of Americans who totally reject the corruption and trillions in debt.

    February 28, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  19. Chipster

    Cancel health insurance for every elected official in Washington. Let them buy their own insurance and, hey, good luck with all those pre-existing conditions they have!

    Then, perhaps they will be willing to negotiate. They have the best insurance in the world, no pre-existing condition restrictions, no huge deductibles, and they get to keep it for themselves and their families for LIFE!

    Small businesses are dropping programs and hiring fewer employees to avoid the high cost of health premiums. More and more Americans are living without health coverage and losing their homes because of uncovered illnesses.

    How can we go about canceling healthcare coverage for our elected officials until they are willing to help those of us who pay for their coverage?

    They should "feel our pain!"

    February 28, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  20. Larry

    If the republicans really thought that the majority of Americans don't want health care reform and using reconciliation to push it through is political suicide for the Democrats in congress then there would not be one republican who would stand in their way. What the republicans are really afraid of is the success of the reform and the realization by the majority of Americans that we don't need any republicans in the house or senate.

    February 28, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  21. TheyAreAllHypocrites

    51 % is good enough to elect a President of the most powerful country in the world but not to pass legislation? What a bunch of self serving hypocrites. We the People are NOT that STUPID. Just very forgetful....... I will always remember which party led this country for most of the past 25 years. And I will NEVER vote for them again.

    February 28, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  22. Rob

    Unfortunate that the Dems want to commit political suicide on a bill that a great majority of the US Taxpayers and Voters do not want! Just for the sake of saying they "passed" a health care bill. If they pull of this sham, everything that can will be done to invalidate it through legal and legislative processes. It is a terrible bill with terrible consequences. It has many components that are clearly unconstitutional and illegal. It is just foolhardy and favors big Pharma at the expense of taxpayers. It is wrong to attempt this and Obama knows it. He needs to just let this one go and work toward a real health care reform bill that fixes the problems and does not cause many new ones. The goal should be to reduce medical costs for everyone and to see that everyone can afford good health care.

    February 28, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  23. Kathleen

    Nancy, Harry, Obama, PASS HEALTH CARE REFORM NOW!
    We are sick of the fighting! Time to pass it an PLEASE MOVE ON!

    February 28, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  24. DB TX

    I think this should be referendum during the election then have congress vote for it.

    February 28, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  25. Libertyman13

    Why don't any of the articles about this issue in the supposedly "liberal" media not mention that the Republicans fired the Senate Parliamentarian in 2001 when he refused to allow them to pass their tax cuts for the wealthy through reconciliation?

    Oh yeah, that whole liberal media thing is a lie, that's why.

    February 28, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
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