The Two-Bill Strategy
The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate leadership is considering a two-bill strategy for health-care reform. The first bill would include reform's more difficult and controversial elements. The public option would be there, and the subsidies, and the revenues, and the Medicare and Medicaid cuts. This bill would be passed through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes for passage. The second bill would follow the normal order, and include health-care reform's least controversial elements, which also happen to be the elements that aren't really related to the federal budget and so aren't permitted in the reconciliation process: the insurance market regulations, the health insurance exchanges and so forth.
The idea is that the first bill could get 51 votes with little problem but might not clear 60, so it needs to travel through reconciliation. The second bill could clear 60 easily, so it can be pursued outside reconciliation, which is a good thing, given that it's probably ineligible for the reconciliation process.
This strategy has always puzzled me a bit. Reconciliation is the most controversial move you can make in health-care reform, as it cuts the minority's power entirely. If you go that route for most of the bill, it seems unlikely that a couple of Republicans will lend you their votes to finish the job. But if they would, or if you can get 60 Democrats to hold strong and break the filibuster, then why couldn't you get that in the first place, bypassing reconciliation altogether? To put it simply, if you have the votes for this strategy, you don't need to pursue it, and if you don't have the votes for it, then you're stuck anyway.
The one potential answer is that reconciliation isn't about bypassing the GOP at all. It's about bypassing a handful of centrist Democrats. Angry Republicans won't support a consensus-oriented second bill after being cut out of the important work of the first. But Democrats like Kent Conrad might, as reconciliation won't specifically have hurt them, even as its real point was to take the process out of their hands and put it back in the hand of the Democratic Senate Leadership. In this telling, the problem is that you can get 60 Democratic votes for a bad bill but not a good bill. So the question is whether you can get a good, but incomplete, bill through reconciliation and hold 60 votes for the non-controversial legislation that would fill in the holes.
But I might well be missing something here.
Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press Photo.
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