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Reconciling with the Senate


I'm surprised to see Kent Conrad taking direct aim at the Senate's dysfunctions.

The Senate "was not designed to have everything require 60 votes," Conrad said. "It wasn't designed to prevent important action on the problems facing the country." If a supermajority is effectively necessary to pass any piece of legislation, he added, this "puts a great deal of pressure on going to more of a reconciliation process to deal with things."

Conrad argued that it's not possible to use reconciliation — which requires merely a straight majority vote — to win passage of an entire comprehensive health-care bill, as some progressives have advocated. (There are assorted rules that prevent this.) But Conrad noted that he's open to using this legislative maneuver to make limited, though significant, changes to a measure the Senate has already passed — provided that certain procedural kinks could be ironed out.

Conrad matters for two reasons. First, he chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee, which means he has substantial control over the use of the budget reconciliation process. Second, he's the moderate's moderate. He's the guy who partnered with Republican Judd Gregg for an entitlements commission. If Republicans have him tearing his hair out and suggesting Democrats may need to use the reconciliation process much more often, they may be pushing Democrats to the point that they're actually willing to do something about GOP obstruction.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 29, 2010; 3:27 PM ET
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This is very encouraging to hear. Maybe common sense and a sense of purpose is finally descending on Washington. Or maybe something else is finally descending for certain Democrats.

Posted by: ScottKP | January 29, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Reading the tea leaves of the Congress is getting pretty frustrating, but Conrad is, as you point out, an important bellwether. As I have been hoping, let the Dems work quietly to put together a reconciliation bill, get support for it equally quietly and pass it -- QUICKLY. I am coming to the conclusion that the more the Dems talk about "process" the more stuck they get. Let the sausage making go unobserved for a few weeks and then ...voila. 72 hours. Read it and pass it.

Posted by: LindaB1 | January 29, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Remember when you played board games as a kid? Kent Conrad is that kid that memorized the rules from the inside of the box. Sometimes he could be a pain in the butt, but when he was arguing your side he was invaluable.

Posted by: SteveCA1 | January 29, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

"They may be pushing Democrats to the point that they're actually willing to do something about GOP obstruction." Of course, it would help if the Democrats quit peeing in their pants every time James DeMint stamps his feet and whispers "FILIBUSTER!"

Posted by: golewso | January 29, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

What we call reconciliation, legislative maneuvers, and overcoming structural hurdles, others countries call democracy by majority rule.

Good to see Conrad going to the press with his concerns. It's not like he's making a vehement argument for the removal of the filibuster, but it's a positive sign.

Posted by: orteleus | January 30, 2010 2:23 AM | Report abuse

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