Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)Conrad is an opponent of using reconciliation, but he's feeling a lot of heat from the Democrats in the House and the White House. Certain members of the Senate leadership are now strongly pressing for reconciliation as well:
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)
House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.)
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.)
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.)
Conrad told reporters that he doesn't want to use reconciliation rules to pass healthcare reform but that he is feeling pressure to include the option in the budget resolution from House members and the Obama administration.The use of reconciliation would allow health-care reform to avoid the possibility of a filibuster so that it would only need a bare majority to pass. Back in the day (meaning 2005, when Democrats were out of power in the Senate), Sen. Murray issued a ringing defense of the filibuster:
There are "three prongs that are involved in any budget discussion -- Senate, House and the White House," Conrad said. "And the White House and the House are insisting on [reconciliation]."
Asked if it was impossible to resist them, Conrad said, "We'll see."
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also called for reconciliation rules for healthcare on Thursday, the first time he has done so publicly.
When asked by the New York Times whether reconciliation instructions would be included, Reid replied, "I hope so, but it's up to the conferees."
We had an election this past year, and it's true that Republicans ended up with the majority in this body. But that does not mean that half the country lost its voice. That does not mean that tens of millions of Americans have no say in our democracy...Mr. President, in reality, this [the proposed "nuclear option" to end filibusters for judicial appointments] isn’t about judges. This isn't about a Senate procedural change. This is, plain and simply, a power grab and an effort to dismantle the system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers created.
Without that system, the U.S. Senate would become a rubber stamp for the president.
Will she stand by that principle now?
It might already be too late, but those who would defend the filibuster for health-care reform and ensure that such reform, if passed, requires a broader majority might want to raise their voices now and contact their representatives/House-Senate conferees (especially Conrad, Murray, and maybe Boyd). Certainly, the Democratic conferees are feeling a lot of pressure to use reconciliation in order to force health-care reform, and the White House is pushing for swift action (possibly as early as Monday for a budget package and Tuesday/Wednesday for votes on it).
(For more 2005 Democratic defenses of the filibuster, see here.)
UPDATE: Well, it looks as though a deal for reconciliation has been reached, according to Jonathan Cohn:
The final budget resolution will include a "reconciliation instruction" for health care. That means the Democrats can pass health care reform with just fifty votes, instead of the sixty it takes to break a filibuster...
The reonciliation instruction specifies a date. That date, according to one congressional staffer, is October 15. (The original House reconciliation instruction had a late September deadline.)
In other words, the House and Senate each have until that day to pass health care legislation.
If they haven't, then both houses will consider health care under the reconciliation process, which is relevant primarily for the way it affects the Senate. There will be a limit on the time of debate. Republicans won't be able to filibuster it.