WSJ: Dems Could Split Bill, Use Reconciliation
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Aug 19, 2009 at 05:26:38 PM EDT
Last month, in a conference call with liberal bloggers, President Obama made clear that he was open to using the reconciliation process to lower the vote threshold in the Senate for healthcare reform from 60 to 50. Now it appears that very strategy is being seriously considered:
The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes.
In recent days, Democratic leaders have concluded they can pack more of their health overhaul plans under this procedure, congressional aides said. They might even be able to include a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers, a key demand of the party's liberal wing, but that remains uncertain.
Other parts of the Democratic plan would be put to a separate vote in the Senate, including the requirement that Americans have health insurance. It also would set new rules for insurers, such as requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. This portion of the health-care overhaul has already drawn some Republican support and wouldn't involve new spending, leading Democratic leaders to believe they could clear the 60-vote hurdle.
Per Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid, who reported the story for The Wall Street Journal, there is a better than even chance that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, working in consultation with the Obama administration, will move forward in this regard -- passing the easier parts of healthcare reform in normal order, and passing the more difficult parts using the budget process. In such a case, the Democrats could afford to lose as many as 10 votes in the Senate (including that of Ted Kennedy, who has not been seen in the Senate for months) while still enacting the more contentious portions of reform, namely a public option.
This, of course, is a trial balloon, and it's not yet clear that the Senate will move forward in this regard. But it is most certainly a positive development for the cause of reform to see Harry Reid, Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic leadership taking a harder stance to gain a stronger bargaining position.