Attention To Deadlines
The President summoned the Democratic members of the relevant finance committees (Ways and Means in the House, Finance in the Senate) to the White House yesterday to urge them to get their work done on the health care reform bill. He didn't ask for the leaders of the Senate HELP Committee, or other members of the relevant House Committees working on the bill. That's because their work is progressing well, with the House Tri-Committee releasing their bill today and the Senate HELP Committee marking up their bill, with a final vote as soon as this week. For all of the attention in the blogosphere about the presence of a public insurance option, which will be included in the House bill and the Senate HELP Committee bill, the real problem with health care reform, as evidenced by this meeting, is how to pay for it. And someone doing organizing and advocacy needs to focus on that at some point very soon, or this whole thing will fall apart.
The President wants the finance-writing committees to resolve their differences before the August recess, and I didn't completely understand the focus of that deadline, but Brian Beutler makes a compelling case.
If a lot of work remains to be done on health care after the August recess, Congress will find itself fast upon its deadline to pass a budget reconciliation bill. Democrats have suggested that they'd use the reconciliation process to pass health care reform if a bipartisan bill is unable to pass via normal legislative channels by mid-October--Obama's current goal. The very possibility of going the reconciliation route--and thereby avoiding a filibuster--has served as a weak lever of sorts for congressional leaders--a call to health care reform fence-sitters and opponents to play along, or be shut out of the process altogether. But in reality this isn't how Democrats--or anybody else on the Hill, really--wants health care to pass.
And yet, if Congress enters recess with weeks of work left to do, party leaders may have to make a call; and those who oppose passing health care through the reconciliation process--Republicans and some Democrats--might be trying to run out the clock--to call leadership's bluff, or, at the very least, to touch off a game of legislative chicken. If that's what it comes to, the political fight will be fascinating to watch. But it's pretty clear that party leaders and a cautious White House would prefer not to have to make the call.
It's clear that the White House wants reconciliation used as a stick to prod the process rather than an actual tool for writing legislation. The reconciliation process could turn any legislation into Swiss cheese - although it doesn't have to - and it would probably include sunsets for the major provisions. So if Congress keeps writing the bill in September, they'd have to make that decision sooner rather than later. What Obama is signaling is that he doesn't want to make such a decision, that health care will need to overcome a Republican filibuster on debate in order to pass.
This makes me wonder why reconciliation was sought at all. It's like aiming a gun that everybody knows isn't loaded.