The New York Times is reporting that Senate Democrats are considering using reconciliation to expedite the passage of health care reform. In effect, that would mean any health care legislation would be treated as part of the budget process and not subject to filibusters. For all practical purposes, this would mean that Republicans would have little input on the final product and no ability to block or reshape the legislation. The Democratic legislation would probably then lack the support of even sympathetic Republicans like Orrin Hatch.
As Times says in its story:
A health care bill written mainly or entirely by Democrats would almost surely create a new public health insurance program, to compete with private insurers. It would require employers to provide insurance to employees or contribute to its cost. Employers who already offer insurance could be required to provide more or different benefits, and Congress could limit the tax breaks now available for such employer-provided insurance.
“If Democrats push a health bill through the Senate using budget reconciliation procedures, the bill would lack Republican support and would lack the support of key constituencies – certainly the business community,” said E. Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation, a trade group. “Health care reform would crater for this year.
That second paragraph strikes me as an empty threat, because once the House and Senate settle on a budget blueprint, Senate Democrats could pass legislation over the unanimous opposition of Republicans while losing as many as eight of their own members (assuming Al Franken is eventually seated). But it would give the Democrats ownership of the legislation and put some legislators under a great deal of pressure from business groups. That’s why key Democrats have reluctant to go this route.
If the Democrats resort reconciliation as a way of hammering out health care reform, Republicans would still be able to invoke the Byrd Rule, raising points of order that challenge elements of the bill as extraneous to the budget process. Changes in regulations on insurance companies, for example, would be challenged if they don’t change federal spending or revenues. Those challenges are subject to a parliamentarian’s ruling, but if sustained they would require a filibuster-like 60-vote supermajority to waive.