Health Care Reform: The Summit Strategy - Road to Reconciliation?

Published February 22, 2010, 12:32 pm, CST

by Diane W. Collins


President Barack ObamaToday, President Obama released his eleven page Health Care Reform Proposal four days before the bipartisan Health Care Summit scheduled to be held at Blair House on Thursday, February 24th.


Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs held a press briefing at 12:00 pm, EST which included many questions from the White House Press Corps regarding the intentions of Thursday's summit. In response to one reporter asking if the document released today by the President was Obama's (official) health care reform proposal, Secretary Gibbs replied, "It is the proposal the President intends to bring to the Summit."


"Political theater"... "The Party of No"... Why do so many feel the Health Care Summit is a staged event and the road to a reconciliation vote? There are a number of reasons Conservatives have felt this to be the case as articulated by Republican speakers at CPAC 2010 last week. However, the Press Secretary most likely added to the apprehension today.


Early in his remarks on Health care reform, Press Secretary Gibbs mentioned the various times "reconciliation" was used by Republicans to pass legislation they favored during past administrations. When asked by Helen Thomas, member of the White House Press Corps if the Democrats intended to use reconciliation to pass health care reform, Press Secretary Gibbs side stepped the question. Ms. Thomas expressed frustration in not being able to get a straight answer. "Are you going to use it or not?" Ms. Thomas stated, "It's a simple question, yes or no?"

.... more, soon


Addition: 2/23/10, 4:52 CST


So, what happens if the Summit is really just a photo shoot? The Democrats get to look like they "extended the hand of bipartisanship" and if the Republicans play it deftly, they'll look like they came with ideas, presented them well and were summarily dismissed. Not to be a fortune-teller.... Then what. Democrats will most likely try to get this new bill (which is a version of the Senate's bill) passed in the Senate through reconciliation which would require only 51 votes versus the normal 60. Even if they pass it in the Senate, Democrats will still need to send it back to the House for a vote. That is where they may not have the votes to pass Health Care Reform. Democrats will still need 218 votes in the House. ...more, soon


Addition/Correction 2/23/10, 8:38 CST

Update 2/25/10, 8:33 CST


Even if the Democrats are able to pass a reconciliation bill, the House must pass the existing Senate bill also. (The Senate passed their bill on Christmas Eve 2009 without the public option). Here's, where a point of confusion seems to appear. Fox News reported, "... the House would simultaneously have to create a reconciliation vehicle -- a second bill -- that would make changes to send back to the Senate." But, according to procedure, the Democrats (in theory) could actually pass a reconciliation bill prior to the House passing the Senate's original bill.


Continuing, FoxNews points out reconciliation has rules of application, "The following could not be changed by reconciliation: Creation of health insurance rate authorities, Health care consumer protections, Changing individual or employer mandates, No social policy changes (i.e. abortion)... All are key elements in the new White House plan. The Senate would have to then pass the additional bill with a simple majority of 51 votes."


Okay, but here's the point I believe Fox missed. There may be more to this on a procedural level. (And yes, it is understood the Republican senators are currently reviewing any and all means of eliminating what the House might include in the "reconciliation vehicle" they would send to the Senate.) But look at the rules regarding how congress is required to vote... They could pass reconciliation before the House passes the Senate's original bill. It's the how and when that might make the difference in this case. Nancy Pelosi might be able to use a passed reconciliation bill to convince House Democrats to vote for the original Senate bill. (Tell me prior knowledge to an end result doesn't change things.) This is what we found at Wikipedia regarding reconciliation:


"When it comes to enacting laws and then later amending those laws, it doesn't matter in what order Congress passes bills. All that matters is the order in which the president signs those bills into law. As long as the president signs the health care bill 30 seconds before he signs the reconciliation bill, the latter can amend or repeal any provisions in the former. So the House and Senate could, in theory, vote on a conference report amending the Senate health care bill before the House actually has to take the tougher vote to accept the Senate bill.


No matter whether the House votes on reconciliation or the Senate bill first, the Speaker can ensure that the health care bill is signed into law before reconciliation. (The dirty little secret of Congress is that even if the House votes to pass the Senate health care bill tomorrow, the Speaker has unilateral power to hold that bill at her desk until January 3 of next year before sending it to the President and starting the 10-day Constitutional veto clock.)"


So the question is this. Is the Health Care Summit on Thursday the foundation for the "reconciliation vehicle" or "conference report" (as described by Wikipedia)? Will the Summit help House and Senate Democrats agree while showing them how Republicans will react? (Republicans are just eye candy.) Then, " theory, (use that information) to vote on a conference report amending the Senate health care bill before the House actually has to take the tougher vote to accept the Senate bill? Armed with this prior knowledge of how Health Care Reform will look in the end, House members might be more inclined to go ahead and pass the original Senate bill. Thursday's Summit may help Nancy Pelosi get her votes in the House. It has been said, "Timing is everything." Guess we'll have to wait and see.


Very convoluted. Very dangerous. Quite a shell game. Republicans need to be very careful they don't facilitate the process.












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