Monday, April 6, 2009

Reconciliation Coming?

Word on some of the lefty and newsy blogs is that budget "reconciliation" could be a real possibility for the Senate on health-care. This "reconciliation" process would prevent anyone from filibustering the health funding provisions. Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic writes:

Some well-placed sources on Capitol Hill* are saying it's likely that the final budget resolution will include "reconciliation instructions" for health care, effectively making it impossible for Republicans to filibuster reform...

...And while the outcome of those negotiations isn't certain--even some Democratic senators have spoken out against using reconciliation--it appears likely that the House will get its way. "I think reconciliation survives," says one senior House staffer, although the adviser noted it would probably take some pressure from the White House.

A senior Senate staffer agreed with that assessment. And, curiously, it's a staffer who just a week ago told me the outcome was very much in doubt.

I'm not yet sure what changed in the last few days. Nor can I be certain the confidence is well-placed. Another senior Senate staffer was more cautious, suggesting the inclusion of reconciliation is hardly a done deal.

One thing to keep in mind: Even if reconciliation is part of the final budget agreement, that doesn't mean Congress will necessarily use that option. The instructions will might stipulate that reconciliation only comes into play if, by September, the Congress has not yet passed a bill. That gives reformers several months to work out a bipartisan compromise, which is what most of the key players--including the Obama administration--have said they prefer.

Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic has heard something similar:

This column can say with good confidence that a betting man would wager heavily on the Senate including reconciliation for health care and education funding in the final budget agreement.... cap-n-trade...not so much.

For more "progressive" strategizing, see Ezra Klein's discussion of reconciliation options.

Will the sentiments of Democrats in 2005 prevail? Would Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) call this move "a
power grab and an effort to dismantle the system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers created"?

Speaking of health-care reform, check out this passage from Reihan Salam's interesting piece in Forbes (emphasis added):

Earlier this month, The New Republic Web site hosted a thoughtful and informed discussion of the Massachusetts health reform that has covered 85% of the state's previously uninsured residents. One of the participants, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, was unusually frank. An architect of the reform, Gruber acknowledged that the costs have skyrocketed as coverage has increased--but Gruber sees this as part of its "genius."

"For decades," Gruber writes, "efforts to move towards universal coverage have always floundered on the shoals of cost control." But once universal coverage was achieved, or almost achieved, pressure groups rallied behind cost control efforts in order to preserve the gains for the uninsured.

As a political strategy, this is very clever indeed. It does, however, raise a number of pressing questions. What exactly constitutes an effective cost control effort? Assuming cost control efforts only go so far, will voters accept sharp tax increases? By deferring these questions, we make coverage expansion look very attractive--just as George W. Bush made his tax cuts look very attractive by deferring the question of how we'd pay for them in the years to come.

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