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Conrad Pledges End-Around If Budget Vote Blocked

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said Monday that if Republicans attempt this week to block a $3.55 trillion budget resolution that contains funding for the president's health care overhaul, Democrats would likely submit a second resolution.

And, said Sen. Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who chairs the budget panel, the new proposal would contain a "reconciliation" provision, which would strip the minority party of its ability to filibuster the measure.

The maneuver would allow majority Senate Democrats to pass a budget with a simple majority vote — and without any Republican support.

Conrad had resisted including the reconciliation measure in the resolution his committee passed last week and sent to the Senate floor for debate this week.

"I don't think reconciliation is the right way to write fundamental reform legislation," he said Monday during a morning conference call with reporters before the Senate began debate on the measure. The House also takes up its budget resolution Monday.

But Conrad warned that if there's no Republican cooperation this week — "if it's proved absolutely essential" — a second budget resolution that includes the controversial but common reconciliation provision would likely be sent to the floor.

"I would strongly prefer not to do it that way," said Conrad, who predicted that Democrats would get some Republican cooperation this week.

"I believe there are a group of Republicans who fully intend to help write major health care reform legislation," he said, "and I think we ought to engage them."

That support, however, is not likely to come from Conrad's committee colleague, ranking Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Gregg supported reconciliation when his party used it in 2005 to cut off debate over the contentious issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but now he calls it an "act of violence."

There have been some threats from the GOP side of the aisle of legislation that would prevent Senate Democrats from creating a second resolution with reconciliation language.

Despite Conrad's reluctance, the conference committee that will ultimately reconcile the House and Senate budget resolutions likely would have no such inhibitions. Democratic House and Senate leaders, as well as the administration, want to keep the possibility on the table.

"I don't control the outcome of the conference," Conrad said. "I'm a participant. I've stated that my strong preference is not to have reconciliation. I'll argue that position strongly in conference."

Conrad also defended the budget resolution that passed out of his committee last week that included cuts to the president's budget as reflecting revenue estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO reported that White House estimates of revenue were overstated by about $2.3 trillion.

"That required us to make a series of adjustments to preserve the president's key priorities" of health care, education and energy reform, Conrad said.