Reconciliation

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For months few have mentioned it. But as the public option withers on the Senate vine, progressive groups are beginning to push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to use reconciliation rather than pass a health care reform bill without a public option in it. I’ve heard a few whispers on the Hill that this is still an option, but for the most part Democrats know that shoe-horning it through reconciliation not only burns all centrist good will (good luck getting Blanche Lincoln to vote for just about anything else on Obama’s agenda after baiting her to take such a politically tough vote and then switching to reconciliation) but such a plan has a lot of complications.

First, Republicans would invoke the Byrd rule – which would require a 60-vote majority to overcome – every five minutes, forcing Dems to pare down the bill and pass something much, much less ambitious. It took weeks to get a cloture vote to start the debate — imagine how long it’d take to get the 2,074-page bill through God knows how many Byrd rule objections — even if everyone proves to be germane. And second, the budget expires in five years – meaning Congress would have to go through this whole process all over again to either extend or make permanent the changes.

What such petitions show is the already-embattled Reid will face substantial anger from the left if and when he drops the public plan from the bill and picks up a trigger option instead of going to reconciliation. After all, the one thing that we did learn from Saturday’s Senate vote, as Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown notes, is that Reid starts the debate three votes short on the public option. It’s not like he’s going to make those up on the Republican side. So from here on out it’s a question of a) how to coerce and/or change the bill to get those three to change their minds, b) how to stage manage a failed cloture vote on the bill with the public option in it in order to go to an immediate substitution bill with a trigger in it (what I’m hearing is the most likely route), or c) reconciliation. All tough trails for Reid to navigate in the next month.

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