The Rationales for Reconciliation
The idea, as it stands, is that there will be two health-care bills. The one with the hard stuff — the subsidies, the Medicaid expansion, the Medicare reforms, the public plan, and the revenue measures — will go through the budget reconciliation process, and thus sidestep the filibuster. Then there'll be a bill that includes everything that was ineligible for the budget reconciliation process.
But will it work?
The basic question has to do with votes: If you have 60 votes to overcome the filibuster against the second bill, why don't you have 60 votes for the whole package? I've not gotten a particularly convincing answer to this.
One hypothesis is that this is about helping conservative Democrats avoid culpability for the hard stuff. If Democrats go to reconciliation, Ben Nelson can complain about it and vote against it and generally oppose the bill without causing anyone any problems. Conversely, if it proceeds through the normal order, he'll actually have to vote against the filibuster for the filibuster to fail, and as such, he can legitimately be painted as having helped the Democrats. It's hard to argue that you opposed health-care reform when you cast the decisive procedural vote to ensure its passage.
A related hypothesis is that it's not so much about making the politics easier on the centrists as making the politics easier by cutting out the centrists. Ben Nelson may well be the 60th vote to break a filibuster, which gives him enormous power to shape the final bill. He won't be the crucial vote on reconciliation, however, and so would have less power over the final bill. This will make for a more excited base, an easier time with House liberals, and, not incidentally, better policy.
Another idea is that activating the reconciliation process changes the incentives for both sides. If Republicans can kill the bill, that's their first-best outcome. But if they can't kill the bill, the second-best outcome, at least for some of them, may be to deal on it. If there's going to be legislation, Snowe and Collins and Voinovich and a few others might want to see their priorities included rather than simply content themselves with a protest vote against the legislation. Reconciliation might actually get you to 60, because it ensures the endgame includes a bill rather than a failure.
Finally, the overarching argument is that without Kennedy, and with Robert Byrd's presence uncertain, you don't have a strong 60 votes anyway, and so there's no real choice. The math may or may not work in reconciliation, but that's better than the math definitely not working outside of it.
Photo credit: By J. Scott Applewhite — Associated Press
September 1, 2009; 6:31 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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