Democrats Have a Sneaky Plan to Pass Health-Care Reform

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Obama, looking particularly sneaky, dares to eat a peach.
Obama, looking particularly sneaky, dares to eat a peach. Photo: Getty Images

Today The Wall Street Journal details the latest Democratic health-care-reform strategy/mind game to be leaked to the press. Basically, the plan the White House and Senate leaders are considering involves splitting the health-care legislation up into two separate bills. One would be composed of provisions that have drawn bi-partisan support, like setting "new rules for insurers, such as requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions." This would be voted on through the normal Senate procedures and would hopefully muster enough votes to defeat a filibuster. The second bill would include the more controversial aspects, like a public option, subsidies, and reimbursement rates, and this bill would go through the budget reconciliation process, which cannot be filibustered and therefore only requires a bare majority to pass. Sounds crafty! But can it actually succeed? And are Democrats once again just trying to bluff their way into a bi-partisan compromise?

• Jonathan Cohn thinks this shows that "the Democrats are ready to get tough after all." But he's not sure that Republicans would even vote for the popular portions of the bill "if it meant handing the Democrats a victory. At the very least, they'd fight Democrats on the details. Nor is it clear Democrats themselves have enough unity to get fifty votes for the controversial elements of reform." Plus, the Senate's parliamentarian could throw out some pieces of the legislation that don't belong in the budget reconciliation process. But even the threat of going this route could provide "Republicans new incentives to negotiate in good faith." [Treatment/New Republic]

• Marc Ambinder explains that the "[r]ules and precedents" of passing non-budgetary items through the reconciliation process "are very complex, and there is certainly no 'one answer.'" This is one reason why Democrats are "a bit wary of using the process. There's no telling what might not make it in the final bill." Which is why "the threat of reconciliation is very likely just that — a threat." At the same time, "[r]econciliation isn't 'controversial.' It's not a 'nuclear option.' It's another way of getting things done, one that still requires at least 50 votes." [Atlantic]

• Jack Balkin believes that if this tactic is successful, "it may create a more regularly used method of going around the filibuster as it currently exists. This would be a constitutional change of some significance." [Balkinization]

• Ezra Klein is pretty confused about this strategy: "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?" [Ezra Klein/WP]

• Chuck Todd and friends believe Obama is "very serious" about using the reconciliation process. "We can tell you this: We know the president's experience in the Senate has convinced him that the 60-vote threshold seems a bit absurd to him sometimes. If you can get 55 votes for something, you should be able to get your bill out of the Senate, according to those who have talked with him about this issue." [First Read/MSNBC]

• Matthew Yglesias thinks it's a good idea (he suggested it a couple of days ago), but he still wonders if Democrats like Max Baucus and Kent Conrad will get onboard. [Think Progress]

• Ben Pershing wonders whether the Democrats are "really that serious about this idea, or is it another threat designed to increase pressure on Republicans and moderate Democrats?" [Rundown/WP]

• Steve Benen thinks Harry Reid might not be bluffing this time. [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Joan Walsh is "agnostic on whether the Democrats should use reconciliation to pass health care reform." She'd greatly prefer that Obama stop "ducking his responsibility to lay out what he stands for and marshal his forces" before the Democrats settle on their tactics. [Salon]