There are two ways to look at the The White House / Democratic party noises about pushing health care and energy reform through the budget reconciliation process. One -- the White House is simply bluffing, hoping that the threat will help them bank at least 60 votes in the Senate for cloture on important measures. Two -- the White House and Democrats know (almost) exactly what they want to do on health care and energy, and they're not going to let procedure (especially Senate procedure) slow them down.
The majority's use of the budget reconciliation rules to pass controversial money-related legislation is a time-honored tradition; its emergence this year is unremarkable, and hardly undemocratic. Budgets require a majority to pass; almost all other legislation effectively requires 60 votes because a vote to close off debate (cloture) preceeds its consideration. Republicans are threatening to filibuster various elements of the Obama plan -- particularly the new spending and tax propsoals -- as is their right. Obama probably has majority votes for health care and energy; he probably doesn't have supermajorities. Minority parties and less ideologically pure members of the majority party don't like the shoe-horning of supra-budget legislation into the budget process because it deprives them of a check on the majority's power. The party in power always argues that some votes are too important to leave to the vagaries of Congressional procedure; a majority vote will suffice. Actually, the hardest, most controversial parts of health care and energy to pass will be the...well...call them the revenue enhancers and cost-cutters -- precisely the budgetish line items that can legally be considered in the budget reconciliation process.
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