The budget reconciliation process, which sharply limits debate and constrains policy options, is not the right vehicle for a policy as complicated and contentious as health care reform. Much better to pass it as ordinary legislation.
The routinization of the filibuster – or, more commonly, threatened filibuster – to the point where reporters write without reflection of the 60 votes needed to pass a bill in the Senate, is a change of Constitutional proportions, and not one that the majority has any obligation to respect further than the actual rules of the Senate demand. And budget reconciliation is the one vehicle around that roadblock.
So the President and the Democrats on the Hill should work in good faith with Republicans to arrive at a health-care bill that will command some support on both sides of the aisle. But that negotiation should take place with the understanding that the Democrats’ fallback – what the negotiation analysts call their BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) is not inaction, but instead writing health reform into the budget reconciliation bill in a way that commands 50 votes plus the Vice-President’s tie-breaker. Once Al Franken is seated, Reid can afford up to nine defectors, or more if (for example) Arlen Specter decides that he doesn’t want to run for re-election carrying the burden of having blocked health care reform.
The Republicans threaten that, if the Democrats ram health care reform through under budget reconciliation, they will refuse to cooperate on anything else.
And that would differ from the Republicans’ current stance just how, precisely?
It’s too bad for the Republicans that their man Rush Limbaugh blabbed what should have been a secret: that their goal is to create a failed Presidency. (If that weren’t the case, you’d expect someone on the Republican side to tell Rushbo to STFU, but apparently no one dares to.) But now that the word is out, there’s no reason for the Democrats to tamely put up with it. Even in crassly electoral terms, the Democrats need to go into the mid-term elections with a string of accomplishments far more than they need a reputation for sportsmanlike conduct.
I have a thousand bucks that says we get a health care reform bill signed this year.