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
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."