Howard Dean Votes for Reconciliation

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OK, so Howard Dean doesn’t have an actual vote, but his contention that Democrats should kill the public option-less Senate bill and instead push pieces of health care reform through via reconciliation is still significant. Greg Sargent at the The Plum Line got early word of a public radio interview with Dean scheduled to air in a few hours. According to Sargent, here’s what Dean told a Vermont reporter:

“This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate. Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.”

I wrote earlier today about how progressives like Dean now have a hard choice to make. They can oppose the Senate bill on the grounds that it’s too weak to matter without a government-run health insurance plan. Or they can decide that the bill still contains enough important reform measures that it’s worth supporting even without a public option. As has been noted, reconciliation would be messy. For one thing, only legislative provisions that affect the federal budget can be passed via this process. The major insurance market reforms in the Senate bill, for example, do not meet this criteria. Here’s how my colleague Karen Tumulty described reconciliation earlier this year:

…Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota noted in an interview that passing health-care reform under the reconciliation rule poses as many problems as it solves for the Democrats and for health reform. Any bill that passes under the reconciliation process must be deemed by the Congressional Budget Office to pay for itself in the next six years. (By comparison, a bill that passes under regular procedures has an 11-year window.) As a result of that tighter fiscal constraint, Conrad said, any bill that passes under reconciliation would likely provide “dramatically less health reform.” And the parliamentary hurdles are high. Opponents would have the power under Senate rules to strike every provision of the bill that cannot be shown to reduce the federal deficit. The result, Conrad said, could look like “Swiss cheese.”