HARKIN GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO RECONCILIATION…. There really wasn’t any doubt about how the process would have to proceed — Dems haven’t exactly been trying to keep this secret — but I suppose official confirmation helps make the way forward even clearer.

Sen. Tom Harkin told POLITICO that Senate Democratic leaders have decided to go the reconciliation route. The House, he said, will first pass the Senate bill after Senate leaders demonstrate to House leaders that they have the votes to pass reconciliation in the Senate.

Harkin made the comments after a meeting in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office including Harkin and Sens. Baucus, Dodd, Durbin, Schumer and Murray.

By agreeing to pursue reconciliation, the Senate leadership almost certainly believes it will have the 51 votes needed to approve the budget fix. This makes sense — even center-right Dems have been coming around on this procedural question in recent weeks, frustrated by Republican obstinacy.

I should emphasize, for any lawmakers or reporters who may be reading, that by agreeing to the majority-rule route, Dems aren’t talking about passing health care reform through reconciliation. Health care reform was already approved by the Senate in December, and it passed 60 to 39 through the regular ol’ legislative process. No tricks, no abuses, nothing unusual at all.

Rather, reconciliation will now be used — if all goes according to plan — to approve a modest budget fix that will improve the final reform bill.

In terms of institutional wrangling, Harkin’s green light for reconciliation should help encourage House Dems to go first, as some House leaders seem prepared to do. Cohn added, “The key now is giving the House some sort of assurance that the Senate will, in fact, pass the amendments via reconciliation.”

The other key, of course, is finding 216 votes in the House. Party leaders voiced some additional optimism this morning, but whether or not this is strategic is unclear (if nervous/vulnerable Democrats are led to believe reform is in trouble, they’re more likely to bolt, giving the leadership an incentive to keep sounding optimistic).

President Obama is scheduled to present his vision on the way forward in about a half-hour. I suspect his remarks will be watched closely on the Hill.

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.