Media screws up Conrad story

MEDIA SCREWS UP CONRAD STORY…. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday, and made some comments news outlets took very seriously. The lead story on Mark Halperin’s “The Page” yesterday, for example, told readers, “Conrad: Reconciliation Can’t Do Comprehensive; Budget gatekeeper says Sunday full health care package by 51 just ‘won’t work.'”

This Politico report was even more dramatic.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) threw cold water on the idea of using the reconciliation process Sunday during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“Reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform,” said Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “The major package would not be done through reconciliation.”

Asked by CBS host Bob Schieffer to elaborate, given that the White House suggested earlier Sunday that they could pass the main bill with a simple majority of 51 votes, Conrad said that reconciliation was not, in fact, an option.

Reporters found Conrad’s comments provocative and newsworthy for only one reason: the media is taking Republican talking points seriously, and doesn’t realize the GOP rhetoric is nonsense.

If Dems were trying to pass a comprehensive health care reform package through the Senate using reconciliation rules — the way Republicans keep insisting — Conrad’s on-air remarks might be important. But that’s not reality. Democrats already passed a comprehensive health care reform package through the Senate using the regular ol’ legislative process. The talk, at this point, is about using reconciliation for a budget fix, which incidentally, is why reconciliation exists. It’s really not that complicated.

The news outlets that jumped on Conrad’s observation didn’t realize just how ordinary his remarks really were.

Jon Chait posted the transcript, which makes it clear Conrad is actually on board with exactly what Democrats intend to do: House passes Senate bill, Senate approves modest, budget-related amendments through reconciliation. This wasn’t the senator throwing “cold water” on the Dems’ plan; this was Conrad endorsing the Dems’ plan.

Chait concluded, “Look, it would be okay for reporters and pundits to be obsessed with what legislative method is employed to pass health care reform if they boned up on the issue. Alternatively, it would be okay for them not to understand it at all if they deemed it an irrelevant issue. (Which, in my opinion, it is.) But obsessed and ignorant makes for a bad combination.”

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Steve Benen

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.