Harry Reid has a new backup plan for using the reconciliation process for ObamaCare, but it still suffers from at least one of the problems that made it a bad idea for the entire bill. According to the Wall Street Journal, Reid will split the bill to break out the most contentious budgetary portions of ObamaCare for the reconciliation process, while keeping the portions that garner the most support in a separate bill that has to pass a cloture vote. While that may solve the issue of parliamentary procedure, it won’t solve the issue of Republican reaction to getting steamrolled on ObamaCare:
The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes. …
Most legislation in the Senate requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but certain budget-related measures can pass with 51 votes through a parliamentary maneuver called reconciliation.
In recent days, Democratic leaders have concluded they can pack more of their health overhaul plans under this procedure, congressional aides said. They might even be able to include a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers, a key demand of the party’s liberal wing, but that remains uncertain.
Other parts of the Democratic plan would be put to a separate vote in the Senate, including most of the insurance regulations that have been central to Mr. Obama’s health-care message.
That bill would likely set new rules for insurers, such as requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. This portion of the health-care overhaul has already drawn some Republican support and wouldn’t involve new spending, leading Democratic leaders to believe they could clear the 60-vote hurdle.
Even the Democrats are unsure what they can and cannot squeeze into reconciliation. The taxes and subsidies look like they could qualify. The WSJ lists an expansion of Medicaid as a legitimate reconciliation item, but that’s stretching it, although perhaps not to the breaking point. Individual mandates, a ban on insurers using pre-existing conditions as a disqualifier, and a cap on out-of-pocket expenses for the insured won’t go through reconciliation. They’re unsure on a public plan, co-ops, and exchanges, but those are not budgetary items; they’re new programs.
This still won’t work, however. First, the individual mandates are likely to get filibustered, which makes the non-reconciliation package a dead letter. If the public option gets into the reconciliation package, the Republicans will still erupt in outrage, and will grind the Senate to a halt through the use of objections to unanimous consent. It matters not whether a bill gets offered in either track — it still needs unanimous consent to dispense with bill reading and other procedures which would take weeks or months to complete, with no other business allowed onto the floor.
Plus, how will the Senate and the House reconcile these bills in committee? If the final version of the bill comes out of conference as one piece, Republicans can still filibuster it — and they will have company if it includes a public option. Reconciliation doesn’t solve that problem at all.
Moderate Olympia Snowe warned about using reconciliation:
“At a time when we need to bolster the public’s confidence in whatever we do with health care, I don’t think the reconciliation process will serve the purpose of providing affordable health security for all Americans,” she said.
And if Snowe feels this way about it, how will Jim DeMint, Orrin Hatch, Tom Coburn, and others react? It doesn’t take more than one angry Senator to stop the upper chamber in its tracks, and reconciliation will create a lot more than one or two.