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.
Then -- 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.".