Conrad: Reconciliation won't work for ObamaCare

No wonder the Times was so pessimistic about reconciliation.  Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), who runs the committee that would have to run a reconciliation push, says that the budgetary process can’t be used for ObamaCare.  It would only address the actual budgetary issues, which leaves a lot off the table.  The Budget Committee chair told CBS’ Face the Nation audience that reconciliation wasn’t designed for this purpose, nor is it appropriate for such sweeping legislation:

“…reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform. It won’t work. It won’t work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation. It was designed for deficit reduction… The major package of health care reform cannot move through the reconciliation process. It will not work… It will not work because of the Byrd rule which says anything that doesn’t score for budget purposes has to be eliminated. That would eliminate all the delivery system reform, all the insurance market reform, all of those things the experts tell us are really the most important parts of this bill. The only possible role that I can see for reconciliation would be make modest changes in the major package to improve affordability, to deal with what share of Medicaid expansion the federal government pays, those kinds of issues, which is the traditional role for reconciliation in health care.”

That’s a long clip, which replays the entire FTN segment on health care. Steny Hoyer insisted that ObamaCare would proceed in Congress, but not if the Senate Budget Committee refuses to play along with the reconciliation strategy. The House will not pass the Senate version of ObamaCare as the last word on the subject, not with the unions getting a big tax on their benefit plans. Even Hoyer seems to understand that much:

However, Hoyer deflected questions about whether there were enough votes in the House to pass the Democrats’ plans as outlined thus far. Even though a reform package passed in the chamber last November, many analysts think it could be harder to get the votes the next time.

“I don’t think we have the votes in terms of a specific proposal because there’s not a specific proposal on the table yet,” he said.

Hoyer added that he thinks a specific proposal will be put forth within “the next couple of weeks,” and then Democrats will start counting votes for that bill.

That almost sounds like the Democrats may have a do-over in the House. If so, then the process starts over from scratch. If the House passes a different bill than the one the Senate has on the table, then either Democrats have to have a conference committee — whose report can get filibustered in the Senate — or the Senate has to pass the new House version. Either way, that adds weeks to the process, and probably months … putting the debate squarely in the middle of the midterm general elections. It’s a disaster for Democrats, the worst of all possible worlds.

Update: I replaced the longer clip with a shorter one provided by CBS News, and they have a new report on Conrad’s comments:

With Democrats pledging to move ahead on their health care plans following Thursday’s bipartisan health care summit, much of the talk has focused on whether they will use a procedural method known as “reconciliation” to pass a final measure through he Senate.

Reconciliation would allow Democrats to pass the bill with 51 votes rather than have to overcome a Republican filibuster with 60 votes. Since Republicans now hold 41 votes in the 100-seat chamber following Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts last month, reconciliation appears to be on the radar for many Democrats. But the prospect has drawn fierce debate among Democrats and Republicans, as was evident during on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.”

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, defended the possible use of reconciliation by saying that the procedure would only be used for “minor” issues with the bill.

“Defended” it only in general terms, of course; Conrad ruled out the use of reconciliation for the purposes foreseen by Harry Reid. Be sure to read it all the way through.