Dems considering the 'Armageddon option' on health care

Rick Moran
The prospects for health care reform passing in the senate have become so bad that the Democratic majority is considering using an option that would set off a partisan explosion the likes of which hasn't been seen in the body in many years.

By considering the use of the budget device known as "reconciliation" - which would prevent the GOP from filibustering the reform bill - the Democrats are threatening to unleash a Republican jihad in response that would make doing business in the senate a nightmare.

Carl Hulse of the New York Times:

They are talking reluctantly because using the tactic, officially known as reconciliation, would present a variety of serious procedural and substantive obstacles that could result in a piecemeal health bill. And they are whispering because the mere mention of reconciliation touches partisan nerves and could be viewed as a threat by the three Republicans still engaged in the delicate talks, causing them to collapse.

Yet with the discussions so far failing to produce an agreement, Democrats are exploring whether they could use the tactic as a last resort to secure a health care victory if they have to go it alone. The answer: It would not be pretty and it would not be preferable, but it could be doable.

"This is tough stuff," said Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, "but, yes, it is more than theoretically possible."

The tactics open to the GOP in the future if the Dems go ahead and launch this option are limited only by the GOP's imagination and how petty they want to be in response. The Republicans could slow down business in the senate by requiring all bills to be read in their entirety, or have constant quorum calls, or pile on amendments to bills - the possibilities are endless.

But the Democrats would have their own problems:

From his perspective, a major impediment is the fact that the plans devised by the Senate finance and health panels would have to produce $2 billion in savings over five years and not add to the deficit after that.Considering the upfront costs of trying to bring all Americans under the health insurance umbrella, and the fact that some of the structural health care changes that lawmakers are eyeing might not produce immediate savings, the deficit rules could severely limit the scope of a bill.

"You would have a very difficult time getting universal coverage in reconciliation," Mr. Conrad said.

And that is just the beginning. Under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation bills were given special Senate protection and allowed to pass by simple majority votes, after limited debate, to give senators the ability to make the kinds of tough decisions required to cut the deficit.

The Dems would have to come up with some major league sleight of hand in order to meet those deficit requirements. But, as Conrad said, it can be done.

Given the huge importance being attached to this bill by the president and Congress, the chances are very good that they will do anything necessary to pass it - even if it means that business will come to a standstill for the rest of the session.




The prospects for health care reform passing in the senate have become so bad that the Democratic majority is considering using an option that would set off a partisan explosion the likes of which hasn't been seen in the body in many years.

By considering the use of the budget device known as "reconciliation" - which would prevent the GOP from filibustering the reform bill - the Democrats are threatening to unleash a Republican jihad in response that would make doing business in the senate a nightmare.

Carl Hulse of the New York Times:

They are talking reluctantly because using the tactic, officially known as reconciliation, would present a variety of serious procedural and substantive obstacles that could result in a piecemeal health bill. And they are whispering because the mere mention of reconciliation touches partisan nerves and could be viewed as a threat by the three Republicans still engaged in the delicate talks, causing them to collapse.

Yet with the discussions so far failing to produce an agreement, Democrats are exploring whether they could use the tactic as a last resort to secure a health care victory if they have to go it alone. The answer: It would not be pretty and it would not be preferable, but it could be doable.

"This is tough stuff," said Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, "but, yes, it is more than theoretically possible."

The tactics open to the GOP in the future if the Dems go ahead and launch this option are limited only by the GOP's imagination and how petty they want to be in response. The Republicans could slow down business in the senate by requiring all bills to be read in their entirety, or have constant quorum calls, or pile on amendments to bills - the possibilities are endless.

But the Democrats would have their own problems:

From his perspective, a major impediment is the fact that the plans devised by the Senate finance and health panels would have to produce $2 billion in savings over five years and not add to the deficit after that.Considering the upfront costs of trying to bring all Americans under the health insurance umbrella, and the fact that some of the structural health care changes that lawmakers are eyeing might not produce immediate savings, the deficit rules could severely limit the scope of a bill.

"You would have a very difficult time getting universal coverage in reconciliation," Mr. Conrad said.

And that is just the beginning. Under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation bills were given special Senate protection and allowed to pass by simple majority votes, after limited debate, to give senators the ability to make the kinds of tough decisions required to cut the deficit.

The Dems would have to come up with some major league sleight of hand in order to meet those deficit requirements. But, as Conrad said, it can be done.

Given the huge importance being attached to this bill by the president and Congress, the chances are very good that they will do anything necessary to pass it - even if it means that business will come to a standstill for the rest of the session.