THE TREATMENT MARCH 24, 2009
If you haven't read Ezra Klein's exploration of reconciliation as a way to pass health care reform, you should. For some time now, prominent Democrats have talked about using the reconciliation process in order to pass reform on a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 it would take to overcome a Republican-led filibuster. And it's an attractive option, for sure.
But it's also a complicated one. Among other things, only measures that affect the budget can be part of a bill that's considered under reconciliation. And who gets to make that decision? The Senate parliamentarian. And there are no guaratnees about how he will rule. As Ezra notes:
Taken as a whole, the uncertainty of the reconciliation process
transforms it into a game of chicken: If Republicans refuse to
cooperate with health reform and force Democrats to resort to
reconciliation, no one knows what will emerge out of the other end.
Republicans might have no input, but Democrats will be at the mercy of
an obscure bureaucrat's interpretation of an undefined Senate rule.
It's the legislative equivalent of deciding a bill on penalty kicks.
None of this means Democrats should shelve reconciliation. It sure beats a successful Republican filibuster. And, as a threat, it can be a powerful tool for bringing Republicans (not to mention moderate Democrats) to the table.
Which, by the way, is almost certainly why Democrats will not forswear the reconciliation option--at least right now. The latest word is that the House budget will include reconciliation "instructions" for health care while the Senate budget probably will not. (We'll see outline versions of each this week.) But that means reconciliation remains a possibility, since the two chambers must eventually settle their diffrences in a conference committee--and, there, they can decide to keep reconciliation if they choose.
By the way, for more background on reconciliation and how it works, here's a primer from the Congressional Research Service.
Update: Cleaned up some horribly bad prose.