Policy-ish

Reconciliation Path For Health Bill Stretches Vocabularies

Later this week Pres. Obama will be announcing a "way forward," on health care reform, his press secretary Robert Gibbs says. The buzz about reconciliation is becoming deafening — even though Democrats seem to be trying to avoid saying it directly.

a tree blocks a path

The "R word" is a building block of Democrats' strategy for passing health care, they just don't want to talk about it. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com

As nearly everyone knows by now, reconciliation is a budget process that allows the majority party in the Senate to cut off endless debate by the minority party and pass budget legislation by only 51 votes. And it seems the "R" word is the next chapter in the messy politics surrounding the health care debate. And it's a word both sides are trying to redefine for their own political gain.

This weekend Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office on Health Reform referred to the strategy as a "a simple up or down vote," while Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the Dems were on a "political kamikaze mission."

In case you missed it, Sen. Alexander opened the Republican negotiations by asking the President and the Democratic leaders point-blank to "renounce this idea of going back to the Congress and jamming through" Obama's bill. He was talking about reconciliation.

Obama skirted Alexander's request, and those of other Republicans to start over with a blank sheet of paper, intimating that reconciliation is very much on Democrats' minds.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., claimed that "no one has talked about reconciliation" except the Republicans. Yet in one of his more candid moments last week, he said Republicans should "stop crying" about it.

In reality, the reconciliation path is the underlying threat coming from Democrats after the White House Summit on Thursday. It's the most obvious way forward on health care, and contrary to popular punchlines, is not rare. Congress has used it more than 20 times in the last 30 years to pass significant legislation, including revamping children's health care, as NPR's Julie Rovner notes.

Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., referred to reconciliation too, in her weekly press briefing . She said the House's next step concerning health care legislation will be waiting to see what "a simple majority," in the Senate can pass, i.e., 51 votes under a reconciliation process.

Countering Pelosi's gentler lexicon, House Minority Leader John Boehner kept the Republican definition of the word alive in an Op-Ed that ran on aol.com Friday, saying: "[The American people] know the bill that is set to be rammed through Congress will cause their health care premiums to go up and the quality of their health care to go down."

And in his weekly address this weekend, the President said: "It is time for us to come together. It is time for us to act. It is time for those of us in Washington to live up to our responsibilities to the American people and to future generations. So let's get this done." We'll wait for Obama's announcement this week to see if he actually utters the "R" word.

Mertens is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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