The Latest News on Reconciliation
Timeline on Reconciliation
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) pushed back against talk that the House has a March 18th deadline to pass the Senate health care bill, which has been noted by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on more than one occasion. Instead, Hoyer cited Easter as their deadline -- another indication they need more time to strongarm votes.
“None of us has mentioned the 18th other than Mr. Gibbs,” Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday at his weekly meeting with reporters, referring to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Going further, Hoyer refused to commit to House passage of either healthcare or the 2010 budget prior to the Easter recess, which is scheduled to begin on Saturday, March 27.
“Our objective is to pass both before the Easter break,” Hoyer said. “Is that going to be difficult? Yes. Is it a deadline? No. If we can, we can. If we can’t, we can’t,” Hoyer said. “We will continue to pursue both items.”
Options Other Than Reconciliation
The real issue with reconciliation isn't the Senate side -- where, even though Republicans and moderate Democrats can delay the bill, they are almost certainly unable to stop passage -- but on the House, where representatives are profoundly distrustful of what could happen in the other chamber. Essentially, the House leadership's problem is that they need to first pass the Senate version of health care reform before passing a reconciliation package of "fixes" for the Senate bill -- but once they've passed the Senate version, it doesn't matter what happens with those fixes, as President Obama can simply sign the Senate bill into law.
The House Democrats do not appear to have the votes for the Senate bill -- they would've passed it already if they did. So today, Politico reports on the latest tactic Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is considering to avoid this problem entirely -- a rule move that circumvents the whole thing:
Party leaders have discussed the possibility of using the House Rules Committee to avoid an actual vote on the Senate's bill, according to leadership aides. They would do this by writing what's called a "self-executing rule," meaning the Senate bill would be attached to a package of fixes being negotiated between the two chambers -- without an actual vote on the Senate's legislation.
Under this scenario, the Senate bill would be automatically attached to the reconciliation package, if the House passes reconciliation. In other words, Bill A would just become part of Bill B if the House passes Bill B, and the Senate could then vote on a reconciliation package before sending it to the president. This allows House members to approve the broader measure without actually voting on it.
If this is confusing to you, that's all right -- it's meant to be. If this tactic is pursued, several House members could claim to support certain aspects of the bill while creating an artificial situation where they can demur support for the broader measure.
Senator Blanche Lincoln: I Oppose Reconciliation
The Huffington Post reports today that Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) reiterated her opposition to the use of the reconciliation method to pass President Barack Obama's health care package. Lincoln, who is facing a primary challenge from the left, was considered a key vote on the question when the vote total needed was 60, but now that it's 50, is far less important. Here's a statement put out by her office:
"Sen. Olympia Snowe and I have proposed a bipartisan way forward on health care and I still hope that my colleagues will consider it," Lincoln said. "I have promised my constituents that I will not support income tax increases to pay for health care and I will seek bipartisan solutions. This takes budget reconciliation as an alternative means to pass health care reform off the table for me. I have fought for and ensured transparency throughout this process, and I believe we must get over this final hurdle using the regular rules of the Senate."