Reid eyes majority rule for health care

REID EYES MAJORITY RULE FOR HEALTH CARE…. There’s been plenty of Democratic skittishness on using the reconciliation process to complete work on health care reform. That’s substantively foolish — reconciliation exists for exactly these kinds of circumstances — but there’s been Democratic reluctance about how reconciliation might “look.” Republicans, Dems expect, will characterize use of the rules as an “abuse” (as opposed to, say, using filibusters and holds to effectively break the American policymaking process).

Fortunately, it appears that skittishness won’t stop Harry Reid from doing the right thing.

Democrats will finish their health reform efforts within the next two months by using a majority-vote maneuver in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

Reid said that congressional Democrats would likely opt for a procedural tactic in the Senate allowing the upper chamber to make final changes to its healthcare bill with only a simple majority of senators, instead of the 60 it takes to normally end a filibuster. […]

The majority leader said that while Democrats have a number of options, they would likely use the budget reconciliation process to pass a series of fixes to the first healthcare bill passed by the Senate in November. These changes are needed to secure votes for passage of that original Senate bill in the House.

That last part is an important detail. Under this scenario, the House would pass the Senate bill, and the Senate would approve “a relatively small” fix, addressing some of the more obvious shortcomings in the Senate bill, through reconciliation.

This, of course, will lead Republicans to freak out, but no one should fall for their crocodile tears. 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. It’s a little too late to characterize the same procedural measure as some kind of outrage, after Republicans relied on it extensively.

The media, however, may need a refresher. Jon Chait noted yesterday that some political reporters (who ought to know better) are overlooking the differences between “using reconciliation to patch up the Senate bill” and “using it to pass an entire health care bill.” Expect, in other words, plenty of misleading journalism as the process unfolds.

As for the bigger picture, it’s still easy to imagine the reform initiative coming up short. It’s heartening, however, to see that the path forward is getting clearer, and leading policymakers appear intent on reaching that light at the end of the tunnel.