I mentioned earlier the rumblings from Democrats about passing a public option plan through the reconciliation process rather than through something subject to filibuster. Clearly the public option either saves or spends budget money - I don't think one member of Congress would disagree with that - and typically those types of things are available to reconciliation. COBRA, the program allowing people to retain their employer-based insurance if they are laid off, was achieved through reconciliation - in fact, COBRA stands for the "Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act". So the history is there to do this, and of course, Republicans have used this history over and over.
In a memo that was drafted and circulated on background in April, Senate Democrats made the case that using a budget reconciliation bill to pass health care reforms is perfectly within their rights, given the Republicans' promiscuous use of the same tactic when they were in power. Excerpts of the memo were published by various news outlets back in the spring, but the memo doesn't appear to have been previously published in its entirety until now. And now, with Democrats ramping up the threat that they'll invoke the process in the fall, they're rehashing those same arguments.
"[S]hould Republicans choose not to cooperate [on health care reform], the inclusion of reconciliation instructions [in the budget] provides a backup option which could be used to prevent a filibuster and approve legislation by a majority vote," the memo reads. "[T]here is nothing unprecedented or unusual about the use of reconciliation."
The memo goes on note that Congress has invoked the reconciliation 19 times since 1980, including in 2001 and 2003 when ", the Republican Congress used reconciliation to pass enormous tax cuts"
"Republicans not only used reconciliation rules to push tax breaks for the wealthy, they also made no meaningful effort to assist the growing number of uninsured Americans," it reads.
This will be a very important document to use once the Republicans ramp up their whine about how very "unconstitutional" it is to mandate a majority vote on the public option.
The question is whether we can reach 50 votes in the Senate. Chris Bowers has either full commitments or fairly strong leaning in that direction from 49 members.
I will say this - it's going to be a lot easier to get from 49 to 50 in the Senate than it will be to peel back 30 or 40 of the House members who signed a letter saying they would support no bill without a public option. I actually attended this town hall meeting in Maxine Waters' district, and the bottom line is this: she will not be able to win re-election if she, after this performance, votes for a bill without a public option. Maybe on a smaller issue, she could get away with it, but not on an issue where 500 people in her district come to a standing-room-only town hall meeting and she says she will draw a "line in the sand." And I expect that other House members, in very blue districts, have made the same claims.
"President Obama has been trying to reach across the aisle" to win a compromise with Republicans, Waters said. "It is not going to happen."
Then Waters made a public appeal to Obama.
"The people of this country elected you and gave you a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate. . . . Yes, we know that you are a nice man, that you want to work with the opposite side of the aisle. But there comes a time when you need to drop that and move forward," Waters said. "We're saying to you, Mr. President, 'Be tough. Use everything that you've got. Do what you have to do. And we have your back.' "
Maybe I'm wrong, and progressives in the House will find some wiggle room by voting for a public option in the initial bill and accepting whatever comes out of conference. But I simply do not see them being able to get away with that. People are engaged and ready to go to war over this element of the reform, and won't accept a too-clever-by-half series of votes from their representatives.