Key Dem Senators Balk at Reconciliation Cram-Down for Health Reform

Reconciliation strategy for health care reform faces opposition from key Democratic Senators.

The great New York Times health care legislative strategy takes a lethal blow — again.

As Bloomberg reports:

Resorting to a budget procedure called reconciliation would infuriate Republicans and force Democrats to settle for more limited changes, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

“Both procedurally and politically, this may be a no- win,” Duffy said.

It seems pretty clear that Charlie Cook is doing everything he can to warn the Democrats not to do anything, uh “no-win.”

Bloomberg reveals the extent of what is known about where key Democratic Senator’s stand on using the Reconciliation process to do the health care cram-down:

[Senator] Conrad has repeatedly said the result would be “Swiss cheese” for legislation. “It does not work very well,” the North Dakota Democrat said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Aug. 23.

Conrad and Byrd warned against the procedure in April, before the Senate on a 53-43 vote passed a budget with nonbinding rules allowing for reconciliation.

“Using reconciliation to ram through complicated, far- reaching legislation is an abuse,” Byrd said in an April 29 statement.

Besides Byrd and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, one of the four Democrats who voted against the budget was Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, who said he disagreed with the provision allowing reconciliation for health care. The fourth, Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, “opposes using reconciliation,” though he hasn’t ruled out voting for it, said spokesman Jake Thompson.

‘Real Mistake’

Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, told CNN on Aug. 23 the process would be a “real mistake.” Leaders may not be able to count on votes from Bayh and Democrat Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who prefer bipartisan legislation.

“There are a number of moderate Democrats who are going to feel uncomfortable voting for a bill that no Republicans support,” said Andrew Laperriere, managing director of the International Strategy and Investment Group in Washington.

Most aren’t tipping their hands. Aides to Bayh and Lincoln said the senators are focused on bipartisan solutions. Officials in Pryor’s and Landrieu’s offices weren’t available for comment.

The strategy also risks alienating Republicans, who could retaliate by slowing work on other legislation or blame Democrats for any future problems with their plan.

“They’ll be sorry if they do it in a partisan way,” said Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who’s working on a compromise, in an Aug. 26 interview.

Without Reconciliation, passing health care reform presents political calculus problem that is virtually unsolvable. Last I checked, math is not a strong suit of Members of Congress.