The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes [...]
Most legislation in the Senate requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but certain budget-related measures can pass with 51 votes through a piece of parliamentary sleight-of-hand called reconciliation.
In recent days, Democratic leaders have concluded they can pack more of their health overhaul plans under this procedure, congressional aides said. They might even be able to include a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers, a key demand of the party's liberal wing, but that remains uncertain.
Other parts of the Democratic plan would be put to a separate vote in the Senate, including the requirement that Americans have health insurance. It also would set new rules for insurers, such as requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. This portion of the health-care overhaul has already drawn some Republican support and wouldn't involve new spending, leading Democratic leaders to believe they could clear the 60-vote hurdle.
I wouldn't call budget reconciliation, which is how the Bush tax cuts came into being, a "sleight-of-hand." It's been on the Senate rulebooks for decades. Furthermore, passing something by a majority vote should NEVER be seen as something foreign and exotic. It happens to be the prevailing law of the land. Only recently have we had this magic 60-vote requirement on all legislation. Only recently have Republican obstructionists used it in every single case they can. THAT would be the sleight-of-hand, getting the media to believe that a definitive 60-vote standard exists.
I don't think Republicans would sign on to the less controversial elements of reform knowing that the more controversial ones will go the reconciliation route, so you'll still need to convince all Democrats to support cloture on the insurance reform/individual mandate section of the bill. But if the leadership can get that done, I'd say go for it. Jim Manley, Harry Reid's spokesman, said in the article, "we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary."
This, by the way, is an absurd statement by Olympia Snowe:
The idea of using reconciliation angers even such moderate Republicans as Ms. Snowe. "At a time when we need to bolster the public's confidence in whatever we do with health care, I don't think the reconciliation process will serve the purpose of providing affordable health security for all Americans," she said.
Nobody in America cares about the process used. People aren't staying up at night angered that the Bush tax cuts used a particular Senate process to pass. They may be angry that George Bush cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans in a time of war. If the bill actually provides affordable health care for all Americans, the number of votes will not have any bearing whatsoever on public confidence. In fact, the public does get confused when they hear 58 Senators voted affirmatively for something and the bill failed. The byzantine, anti-Democratic process of the Senate is what saps the public confidence in government.