Health Care: Back to the Drawing Board

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus had hoped to be unveiling a bill around now, but instead is looking for ways to fill a gaping funding hole on the order of $300 billion or so over the next 10 years. That’s because Majority Leader Harry Reid has told him that his original plan to tax high-end health benefits–a proposal that Barack Obama had been warming up to lately–is not going to fly. (As Jonathan Cohn notes, this was the real news from Reid’s big meeting the other day with Baucus–not the initial report that Reid had told his Finance Committee Chairman to quit playing so cozy with the Republicans.)

Indeed, Reid himself met with key Republicans yesterday, though–as Politico notes–your understanding of exactly what happened in that session depends on who you are talking to. One thing that does seems clear is that it seems less likely today than it did on Monday that the Senate is actually going to pass a bill before Congress leaves town in August for its annual vacation district work period. None of this is fatal, mind you, but it is a reminder of what we have known all along, which is that this is not going to be an easy or smooth process.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: What’s the problem here with the Democrats? Don’t these guys have 60 votes now, enough to blunt any threat of a Republican filibuster? Haven’t they already made it clear they are willing to use “reconciliation,” a process by which they could pass a bill with 51? It’s not quite that simple, as I try to explain in this story.