Surprise! Byrd endorses reconciliation

Conservatives have made hay over Robert Byrd’s opposition last year to using the reconciliation process he helped create for passing ObamaCare.  It didn’t take a Bill Belichick to figure out the countertactic to this, which was to get Byrd to endorse reconciliation in 2010.  As Zachary Wolf reports at ABC, he has — but with a caveat:

The man who wrote Senate reconciliation rules now says Democrats can use the procedure for health reform as long as the Senate-passed bill is used as the basis. …

But in a letter to the Charleston Daily Mail, the 92 year-old, rarely seen-these-days Senator says reconciliation can be used to “find savings” and fix the Senate reform bill.

He says  the bill already passed the Senate by a 60-vote supermajority, so it does not need to again.

So it sounds like Byrd doesn’t like the idea of using reconciliation to change policy in the Senate bill, but he does endorse using it to work toward reducing the deficit. It is a little unclear how that Democrats will sell the fix-its as savings since all indications are that the tweaks proposed by President Obama could make the bill more expensive. A final cost estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet been released.

Wolf has the entire letter Byrd sent to the Daily Mail, which actually draws the limitations more narrowly.  Byrd says that the reconciliation process can only get used for budgetary improvements related to a bill that has passed into law, not to rework ObamaCare on other policy points.  That would include, for instance, tax policies such as the Cadillac-plan tax and the high-income surtax that House Democrats want to use to replace it.  It won’t necessarily allow for issues like adding a public option, or for that matter expanding the use of high-deductible accounts and HSAs.

If the House passes a separate bill, though, this means that Byrd’s objection stands.  A new bill would have to go through the full Senate process — or go to a conference committee.  Byrd’s letter does not explicitly state this, but his argument is entirely predicated on the assumption that the Senate bill is the one that makes it into law.

Otherwise, Byrd explains that his previous opposition to reconciliation was for using it to pass the whole bill the first time around.  Given that both Democrats and Republicans have used reconciliation for tax policy in the past, that’s consistent with Byrd’s actions and statements. It serves as a good reminder to make sure that advocates carefully check context before using quotes to argue hypocrisy.