Conrad: Reconciliation won’t work for health care

Posted on February 28, 2010


Sen. Kent Conrad, the Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee said on Face the Nation that reconciliation is not a viable method of passing comprehensive health care reform. His comments via the Atlantic:

“…reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform. It won’t work. It won’t work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation. It was designed for deficit reduction… The major package of health care reform cannot move through the reconciliation process. It will not work… It will not work because of the Byrd rule which says anything that doesn’t score for budget purposes has to be eliminated. That would eliminate all the delivery system reform, all the insurance market reform, all of those things the experts tell us are really the most important parts of this bill. The only possible role that I can see for reconciliation would be make modest changes in the major package to improve affordability, to deal with what share of Medicaid expansion the federal government pays, those kinds of issues, which is the traditional role for reconciliation in health care.”

Conrad’s comments echo those of past Senate parliamentarian Robert Dove, and it’s quite clear that the Byrd rule prevents vast sweeping policy changes like the public option from being enacted via the budget reconciliation process.

Yet the push is on to use that method to ram through the Democratic version of health care reform. I think most rational Democrats realize that going this route is political suicide, and will forever transform the Senate, where the minority is more respected and a consensus must be earned, into the majority-rules House. Liberals may be fine with that to get their Holy Grail of social programs, through, but they should remember that this means no whining when Republicans have the power and the desire to do whatever they wish by virtue of having a majority.

Against the backdrop, President Obama will announce “the way forward” for health care reform next week. Gee, I wonder if he’ll give the go-ahead for reconciliation? If he does, he’s putting his stamp of approval to move forward on a process that 75% of America says should be bipartisan or be started over. His supporters may laud him as being bold and courageous, but the truth is that reconciliation (which doesn’t seem possible under the rules anyway) represents a failure of leadership by both Obama and Congressional Democrats to get a bill palatable to even their own moderates, and are now forced to ram it through by whatever means necessary, the will of the people be damned. They won, don’t you know.

Pelosi is already talking about Congress doing the right thing even if it isn’t popular politically, so it seems like things are being set up to go the reconciliation route. Everything I’ve seen indicates it’s not procedurally possible, but I doubt little things like rules will get in the way of the True Believers. It makes Harry Reid look like even more of a liar when he told Republicans “no one was talking about reconciliation” at the health care summit last Thursday.

I expect the trigger to be pulled with Republicans getting the blame for its sudden necessity. Democrats, you had 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House. The Republicans weren’t the problem – it was the moderates in your own party, and the bitter mood of the American people. Ignoring it may get you your agenda passed, but it’s a big middle finger to the electorate, whose memories are growing longer by the day.

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