RECONCILIATION EXISTS FOR A REASON — THIS REASON…. When all is said and done, the “summit” is complete, and policymakers decide what happens next on health care reform, they will choose from a limited menu of options.

(1) Let health care reform die; (2) pass a weak, watered-down plan that does very little good; (3) wait and hope that some Republican votes will materialize, enough for a conference package to get an up-or-down vote; (4) the House passes the Senate bill; (5) the House passes the Senate bill, and the Senate approves changes through reconciliation.

Option (1) is obviously political suicide, and option (2) is nearly as bad. Option (3) would have the same practical effect as option (1), since Democrats have already included GOP ideas in the reform package, and Republicans won’t take “yes” for an answer. Option (4) has appeal, but almost certainly won’t have the votes to come to fruition. Which leaves the painfully obvious option (5), which every reasonable observer already recognizes as the only credible choice.

There are some hurdles to making option (5) work, but the biggest seems to be Democratic reluctance to how reconciliation might “look.” Republicans would characterize use of the rules as an “abuse,” and Dems fear that voters would perceive the procedure as skirting the rules.

Brookings’ Henry Aaron, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, explains why Democratic fears are mistaken. The reconciliation process exists for a reason — and this is the reason. (via Jonathan Cohn)

The idea of using reconciliation has raised concern among some supporters of health care reform. They fear that reform opponents would consider the use of reconciliation high-handed. But in fact Congress created reconciliation procedures to deal with precisely this sort of situation — its failure to implement provisions of the previous budget resolution. The 2009 budget resolution instructed both houses of Congress to enact health care reform. The House and the Senate have passed similar but not identical bills. Since both houses have acted but some work remains to be done to align the two bills, using reconciliation to implement the instructions in the budget resolution follows established congressional procedure.

Furthermore, coming from Republicans, objections to the use of reconciliation on procedural grounds seem more than a little insincere. A Republican president and a Republican Congress used reconciliation procedures in 2001 to enact tax cuts that were supported by fewer than 60 senators. The then-majority Republicans could use reconciliation only because they misrepresented the tax cuts as temporary although everyone understood they were intended to be permanent — but permanent cuts would have required the support of 60 senators, which they did not have.

There is simply no reason to Democratic skittishness on this. None. Reconciliation has been used, legitimately, to pass everything from welfare reform to COBRA, Bush’s tax-cut packages to student-aid reform, nursing home standards to the earned income tax credit. Not too long ago, Senate Republicans even considered using reconciliation to approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This should be a no-brainer. The reconciliation process was developed for exactly these circumstances, and even the most panicky Democrats have to realize that there’s nothing wrong with using a fair, legitimate Senate rule to complete the legislative process.

Ezra added this morning, “At this point, Democrats have passed health-care reform bills through the two legislative chambers charged with considering them. The president stands ready to sign the legislation. The roadblock is that 41 Republicans have sworn to use a parliamentary maneuver to obstruct any effort to smooth out differences between the bills. It’s pretty clear who’s stepping outside the traditional workings of the process here. Yet Democrats have allowed the other side to make it look like they’re the ones who are bending the rules! It’s completely astonishing.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.