Playing Hardball On Health Care (and Energy, Too)

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THE TREATMENT MARCH 1, 2009

Playing Hardball On Health Care (and Energy, Too)

Budget Director Peter Orszag's appearance on ABC's "This Week" was full of revealing statements about the administration's plans and priorities. But this exchange, in particular, caught my eye:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Some key Democrats on Capitol Hill are saying, if you want to do all
of these big projects this year, you're going to have to follow what
is called the reconciliation process, put health care, put energy
inside the reconciliation process so that the effect of it is you only
need 51 votes, not 60. Is that the administration's intention?

ORSZAG: I think it's premature to be figuring out the
legislative strategy exactly right now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're not ruling it out?

ORSZAG: It's not where we go first, but we have to keep
everything on the table. We want to get these--these important
things done this year.

If you've been following the health care debate, you know that this is not the first time reconciliation has come up. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus was talking about it as an option as far back as last summer. So was Tom Daschle, back when he was still part of the Obama team.

But it's been a while since either Obama or his allies talked in such brazen terms. During Daschle's confirmation hearings, he emphasized that reconciliation was only a last resort--although he pointedly did not take it off the table. That was widely seen as a goodwill gesture towards congressional Republicans, who were going ballistic over the mere possibility of pursuing health care through reconciliation.

Orszag's statements are a bit stronger than Daschle's. And, combined with Obama's warning shot to insurers during his weekly radio address, it's a sign that the administration is becoming more aggressive in the health care debate.

While they're not going to box themselves in with an overly specific plan, they are going to push hard to pass a sweeping measure--and to pass it this year. And if that means keeping the reconciliation option on the table, so be it.

--Jonathan Cohn 

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