Some smart readers with advanced augury skills are trying to sketch out what would happen if the White House were to split the health care bill in half, and try to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the more controversial parts of the legislation.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the Senate parliamentarian won't sustain any objection about the germaneness of various provisions. Which comes first? The insurance reforms and the health exchange -- popular, populist, easily passable? Or the revenue enhancers and payfors -- which appears to need 60 votes?
If senators know that Democrats are going to ram through the hard
stuff through reconciliation later, why wouldn't they have an incentive
to filibuster the easier stuff? Republicans will be able to demagogue
Democrats as using the reconciliation process as a backdoor to
socialism. It's also possible that senators could add items to the easy
bill that gum up the later reconciliation process. Knowing that
reconciliation is right around the corner makes the easy vote less easy
to cast, as Republicans (and Democrats) who oppose the harder stuff
aren't blind to the ledger main.
If, on the
other hand, if the Senate tries reconciliation first, it might work.
Let's say that 50 senators and the House pass a fully-fledged
public-option-containing-drug-price-reducing bill. Yes, it'll sunset
in five years, but for those five years, the insurance lobby will be
under enormous pressure to reform itself. The insurance industry knows
this. It wants the easy bill because it fears the ramifications of not
doing anything. This is the baseline condition.
-- Centrist Democrats can propose a second bill that moderates the
first bill, creates the exchange and the mandate, and doesn't sunset.
Centrist Dems can therefore claim a victory -- liberals will complain,
but not that much, because they'll get more than they would under the
reverse scenario, the White House gets exactly what it wants, and the
media might even call it bipartisan.
A my correspondent notes, "it's similar to the threat of the EPA on climate
change legislation, the EPA is much tougher regulation than a senate bill, which
gives congress cover to vote for a bill that is seen as much more moderate than
what the EPA plans to do.".