White House Sets the Table to Use 'Reconciliation' Rules to Finish Health Care Reform

White House officials today publicly made it clear that should Thursday’s bipartisan health care reform summit not result in a legislative kumbaya, with Democrats and Republicans setting aside differences to come together on a bipartisan bill, Democrats are likely to pursue a legislative path for finishing up the bill that includes using controversial “reconciliation” rules in the Senate, requiring a majority vote instead of the 60-vote threshold that has become par for the course.

“The president wants and believes the American people deserve an up-or-down vote on health reform,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said Monday morning on a conference call, using the language to describe a 51-vote majority vote, instead of the 60-vote threshold to stave off a potential filibuster.

Pfeiffer also acknowledged that the health care reform proposal the White House posted this morning was designed with practicality –- not theoretical constructs –- in mind. White House officials posted the Senate Democrats’ bill that passed by a party-line vote on Dec. 24, 2009, and a list of fixes to that bill.

The idea is that the House would pass the Senate bill and the House and Senate would both pass a legislative “fix.”

In the new Senate, with Sen. Scott Brown, D-Mass., depriving Senate Democrats of a 60-vote supermajority, Senate Democrats would use the reconciliation rules to pass the fix if they can’t achieve the 60 votes necessary to stave off a filibuster.

Senate Republicans have forced votes to stave off filibusters to an unprecedented degree.

“The package is designed to provide us the flexibility to achieve that if the Republican Party decides to filibuster health reform,” Pfeiffer said. “My understanding is these calls are ultimately made by the Senate parliamentarian, but that was certainly a factor that went into how we put this proposal together.”

During the White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs described reconciliation as a not-uncommon maneuver, and he even walked the press corps through a little legislative history of times when the Senate used reconciliation rules to pass a priority of President George W. Bush.

“Reconciliation, as you know, is a legislative vehicle that has been used on a number of occasions over the past many years,” Gibbs said. “In 2001, the $1.35 trillion tax cut that went through the Senate went through the very same way. The tax cuts in 2003, $350 billion, went through in a similar way.

“I don't think the president wants to get ahead of Thursday's meeting," Gibbs said. "I think we believe there can and should be a constructive discussion. I do think the president believes there ought to be an up-or-down vote on health care.”

With or without reconciliation rules in the Senate, the real problem for Democrats might be in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., isn’t sure Democrats have the votes to continue with this plan.

-- jpt

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