Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has revised and extended his remarks on whether health care reform should be part of the reconciliation process. Like the Weekly Standard‘s John McCormack, I read Conrad’s comments as a softening of his opposition though TPM Cafe’s Brian Beutler remains concerned from a liberal perspective. Here are the most relevant Conrad comments:
I’ve been as clear as I can be publicly and privately, that I don’t think reconciliation is the right way to write fundamental reform legislation. It wasn’t designed for that purpose. It was designed for deficit reduction…
And so I would strongly prefer not to do it that way. One of the things I’ve said to colleagues is, “look the Budget Act contemplates a second budget resolution–only 10 hours in duration on the floor.” And so one could go through this year–at least most of this year–on this budget resolution without reconciliation instructions. And then if it proved absolutely essential–if there were no Republican co-operation on writing major health care reform–you could run a second budget resolution. It would only take a day on the floor and you could put reconciliation instructions there.
If health care reform legislation were advanced through the reconciliation proces, it will not be subject to filibuster — and therefore much more likely to pass in whatever form the Democratic leadership wants. Robert Byrd’s decision to oppose using reconciliation in this fashion was considered a major turning point in the health care reform debate in 1993-94. Conrad was the leading Democrat seen as most likely to reprise Byrd’s role in this debate. Republicans would still be able to invoke the Byrd Rule, named after the West Virginia senator, which requires a filibuster-like 60-vote majority to waive. But unlike a filibuster, it would be subject to a ruling by the parliamentarian.
Obviously, liberals can’t be pleased even with Conrad’s reworked position since it would give moderate Democrats and liberal Republicans a lot of influence in writing reform legislation. But conservatives shouldn’t be thrilled by a choice between a health bill written by Arlen Specter or one rammed through the Senate via reconciliation.
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