The New York Times has a piece today on the growing sense among Democrats that they might be better off trying to pass their massive health-care plan on a partisan basis — without even making a show of seeking Republican support.
We should know very soon if that’s their game plan. House and Senate conferees are in the midst of negotiating a conference agreement on the budget resolution. The House version of the resolution included a provision which would allow Congress to pass a health care bill using the so-called reconciliation process. Reconciliation is a special procedure by which budgetary bills can be considered on an expedited basis. The Senate did not include such a provision in its version of the budget resolution.
The House is pushing to keep reconciliation as an option for health care in the conference agreement, but they are doing so really to make it easier to pass a partisan bill in the Senate. Reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered. That means that if Congress decides to make the health care bill a reconciliation measure, it could pass in the Senate with a simple majority instead of 60 votes (in fact, it could pass with just 50 votes, with the vice president breaking the tie — which is what happened with the Clinton tax increase in 1993). As matters stand, 58 Senators caucus with the Democrats, and that’s likely to be 59 before too long.
If Democratic leaders go down this path,Senate Republicans have already signaled that it would mean the end of bipartisan negotiations on health care.
Passing a partisan health care bill may not be as easy as some Democrats now think. The health care bill can’t be all giveaways, like the so-called stimulus bill. The Democrats want to create massive new health care entitlement, costing perhaps $1.5 trillion over the next decade. The options they are looking at to pay for it would all generate substantial political heat: costly and job-killing taxes and mandates on employers, in a recession at that; requirements that individuals pay premiums for coverage they don’t want; the taxation of employer-sponsored health benefits; more tax hikes on the successful; and Medicare cuts that will reduce benefits for retirees.
They may be able to pass such a bill on highly partisan basis. But maybe not.
President Obama has more or less told the public that all budgetary and economic problems can be solved by taxing the rich, and that his health care plan would reduce costs for households with insurance by $2,500 per year. The electorate might be more than a little surprised, and alarmed, when they find out the Democratic Congress is working on a health care plan which will stick them with a massive new bill instead.
[Cross-posted at the Corner]