March 1, 2010

I'm no expert on this but I think Politico is misreading this one. Conrad: Reconciliation can't be used for comprehensive reform:

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) threw cold water on the idea of using the reconciliation process Sunday during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"Reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform," said Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "The major package would not be done through reconciliation."

Asked by CBS host Bob Schieffer to elaborate, given that the White House suggested earlier Sunday that they could pass the main bill with a simple majority of 51 votes, Conrad said that reconciliation was not, in fact, an option.

"I am the chairman of the committee in the Senate, and I think I understand how reconciliation works and can't work," he said, arguing that the so-called Byrd Rule would prevent the use of reconciliation for the main health care bill. "The only possible role I can see for reconciliation would be to make modest changes in the major package."

Conrad said only "side car" issues could be affected through the reconciliation process.

Well, yeah. What part of what's been going on already does the staff at The Politico not understand? As Conrad tries to explain here, no, the health care bill cannot be passed with reconciliation. It already passed the Senate. The House would have to pass the Senate bill and then there can be some fixes done with reconciliation. Now whether they have the votes or not in the House with the Stupak bunch mucking up the works is another matter.

I'm no fan of Conrad but it looks to me that all he was trying to do here was beat back the Republican talking points that the health care bill is going to be as they keep calling it "jammed down the throats" of the American public with a reconciliation budget vote. Since when is getting sixty votes for something that they already passed after months of debate and hearings "jamming something through"? That's just utterly ridiculous. A lot of us including myself might not like what they passed, but they did pass the Senate bill with 60 votes. I think Conrad was just stating the obvious here. I also think The Politico is trying to twist this into something it's not but coming from that Drudge gossip rag, I'm not surprised.

Transcript via Nexis Lexis below the fold.

SCHIEFFER: We’re back now with our panel of Steny Hoyer, there’s been a lot of back and forth, senators say the House has to go first. Some in the House are reluctant to go before the Senate goes. Are you, number one, willing to go first and don’t you have to?

HOYER: Whether we’re willing or not, we have to go first if we’re going to correct some of the things that the House disagrees with. Correct, change so that we can reach agreement, the House will have to move first on some sort of corrections or reconciliation bill which follows the process that the Republicans followed 16 out of the last 22 times it’s been done for very major pieces including their tax cuts which were really a more --

SCHIEFFER: You’re talking about that the Senate is going to have to go and do it by what we call reconciliation, a parliamentary term.

HOYER: It’s a parliamentary term, but it’s simply a process that the Senate adopted to allow it to deal with in an expeditious way issues that relate to the budget. It’s called reconciliation, a fancy term, been used frankly more by Republicans than by Democrats but used by both parties and accepted.

SCHIEFFER: OK so let’s ask Senator Coburn. You’ll be over there in the Senate if the Senate -- the leaders there do decide to try to do this by reconciliation. What will Republicans do if that happens, senator?

COBURN: Well, I don’t know what we’ll do. The first thing is there will be a fairly significant amendment process that will have to go through. But I would make a couple of points on reconciliation. Welfare reform happened with reconciliation. Half the Democrats voted for it. The Bush tax cuts happened with reconciliation. Twelve Democratic senators voted for it.

You didn’t have a real partisan issue on those times that it was used. You know, the danger of what’s happening right now in terms of using reconciliation is the purpose of the Senate is going to be defeated. And that is to bring consensus to big issues in this country so that we have a reasoned and thoughtful approach and that the American public buys into it.

If you use reconciliation on this health care bill as we see today, what you’re going to have is a thumbing of the nose at the American people. They don’t agree with it. We need to change it. We’re willing to work to get it changed to where we don’t have a massive increase in the government influence in health care.

As a practicing physician for over 25 years, Bob, I have seen -- the reason we have a shortage of primary care doctors in this country today is because of Medicare’s pricing mechanism. We have too much government. We don’t need more. We need less.


CONRAD: On the question of reconciliation, I have said all year as chairman of the Budget Committee, reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform. It won’t work. It won’t work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation. It was designed for deficit reduction. So let’s be clear.

On the major Medicare or health care reform legislation, that can’t move through reconciliation. The role for reconciliation would be very limited. It would be on side-car issues designed to improve what passed the Senate and what would have to pass the House for health care reform to move forward. So using reconciliation would not be for the main package at all.

It would be for certain side-car issues like how much does the federal government put up to pay for the Medicaid expansion? What is done to improve the affordability of the package that’s come out of the Senate?

BLACKBURN: It shouldn’t be done at all.

CONRAD: But it would not be used. Well, that’s not a reasonable position to take, congresswoman. We know that repeatedly for health care certain provisions, for example, children’s health care; the CHIP program was done through reconciliation. COBRA, for people who lose their jobs, that was done through reconciliation.


CONRAD: On relatively minor issues, it’s totally reasonable.

BLACKBURN: But this is not a minor issue.

CONRAD: Well, health care reform at large would not be -- I’ve just said, health care reform, the major package would not be done through reconciliation. That would be unreasonable. But that’s not going to happen here.

SCHIEFFER: What were you going to say, Congresswoman?

BLACKBURN: Well, I think that, on the reconciliation issue, if they had the votes, we wouldn’t have had the summit. And if they try to go through reconciliation, it will be a change in semantics. Instead of the American people saying stop the bill or kill the bill, it’s all going to be about repealing the bill. That’s not the kind of discussion that they want.

And when we were talking about the expanded Medicaid coverage, we rolled the dice on this in Tennessee over a decade ago, made the gamble that near-term expenditures could be offset by long-term savings.

Those savings never materialized. And that’s from a Democrat governor in our state. And as we have all watched it, savings never materialized in Tennessee. They didn’t materialize in Massachusetts. They didn’t materialize in Maine. It is not going to yield the savings that you’re expecting an expanded coverage program to -- to yield.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just throw this in because I’m not sure the White House has the same understanding of this that you do. Because the woman, Nancy DeParle, who is, kind of, in charge of Medicare over there at the White House -- I mean, health care, over there at the White House, said this morning on "Meet the Press" she thought that an up-or-down vote would be the way to go on this.

So, obviously, she’s talking about trying to do it through reconciliation, Senator.

CONRAD: I’d say this to you, Bob. I have said all year, I am chairman of the committee in the Senate; I think I understand how reconciliation works and how it can’t work. The major package of health care reform cannot move through the reconciliation process. It will not work.

SCHIEFFER: It will not work?

CONRAD: It will not work because of the Byrd rule which says anything that doesn’t score for budget purposes has to be eliminated. That would eliminate all the delivery system reform, all the insurance market reform, all of those things the experts tell us are really the most important parts of this bill.

The only possible role that I can see for reconciliation would be make modest changes in the major package to improve affordability, to deal with what share of Medicaid expansion the federal government pays, those kinds of issues, which is the traditional role for reconciliation in health care.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Let me just go quickly around the table, here, and we literally have about 20 seconds here.

Senator Coburn, do you think, at this point, that health care reform of some sort is going to pass? Or is it dead?

COBURN: I don’t know the answer to that, Bob.


SCHIEFFER: OK. Senator Hoyer?


COBURN: ... health care reform that they have on the table...


HOYER: I think so. You said "some form." I hope a comprehensive piece of legislation passes because the American people want it. Notwithstanding what Senator Coburn says, they don’t like the process, but they want...

SCHIEFFER: Yes or no?

HOYER: ... reforms.

BLACKBURN: No, the people do not want it.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

CONRAD: Well, we simply...

SCHIEFFER: Time’s up. Yes or no?


CONRAD: We have to...


We have to do it because we’re on an unsustainable course.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Thanks to all of you. Back in a minute.

Can you help us out?

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