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Democrats Prepare To Pass Health Reforms Through Reconciliation Process

by Brian Beutler

For months now, Senate Democrats have been preparing for what they regarded as the unlikely contingency that they'd have to pass health care reform--or some elements of health care reform--in a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill. But the deadline for that bill is October 15, and with legislative talks still stalled in the Senate Finance Committee, aides are now beginning to say that reconciliation may be inevitable.

The Wall Street Journal confirms this account this morning: "The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes," report Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid.

Senate rules give the Senate parliamentarian the authority to determine whether provisions of legislation are germane to the budget (i.e. whether they substantially impact the deficit).

If they are, then they can be included in the bill. If not, then either the provisions are either dropped or the majority party must overrule his finding. The thinking behind the new strategy is that a number of provisions--including taxes and subsidies and, perhaps, the public option--could be included in the reconciliation bill, while other measures--insurance exchanges, and other insurance regulations--would be included in a separate bill that would travel through the usual channels.

Aides are careful to say that leadership and the White House still hope that the Senate Finance Committee's bipartisan negotiations will bear fruit, suggesting that the reconciliation leaks are also intended to kick those negotiations into high gear. Yesterday, Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said that Democrats would pass a health care bill "by any legislative means necessary."

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