Conrad: Let’s Kick Reconciliation Can Down the Road

March 30, 2009 7:31 a.m.

The budget reconciliation flame wars continue today, with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad reiterating once again his aversion to using the process as a vehicle for health care reform legislation. In a conference call with reporters, Conrad, for the first time, moved beyond simply reiterating his aversion to the tactic and addressed the fact that reconciliation may be the only hope for reform. But he still hasn’t addressed the merits of the plan proposed by reconciliation supporters.

Here’s what he said:

Well, I don’t want to do the negotiation of the conference through the media. But I’ve been as clear as I can be publicly and privately, that I don’t think reconciliation is the right way to write fundamental reform legislation. It wasn’t designed for that purpose. It was designed for deficit reduction. And it creates as you know a lot of technical issues if you are in a reconciliation mode.

And so I would strongly prefer not to do it that way. One of the things i’ve said to colleagues is, “look the Budget Act contemplates a second budget resolution–only 10 hours in duration on the floor.” And so one could go through this year–at least most of this year–on this budget resolution without reconciliation instructions. And then if it proved absolutely essential–if there were no Republican co-operation on writing major health care reform–you could run a second budget resolution. It would only take a day on the floor and you could put reconciliation instructions there. And it seems to me that would be far more preferable than starting with reconciliation. And again I believe there will be Republican cooperation… certainly there will be many who will not. We know that. But I believe there ar e a group of Republicans who fully intend to help write major helathcare reform legislation and they’ve said so publicly and privately and we I think ought to engage them.

Emphasis is mine, and I add it because the group of powerful Democrats who support including reconciliation instructions in this budget do not plan on rushing that legislation. The idea would be to give the Senate until September (most of this year!) to come to a compromise, and to move forward with reconciliation only if that effort fails.

It’s almost identical to Conrad’s proposal but with a key difference: If Democrats put reconciliation instructions in the first (and likely only) budget, they’ll be providing conservatives a key incentive to get on board with reform. By contrast, if Democrats don’t move forward with reconciliation in this budget, and Republicans don’t hop aboard, then the power to do health reform this year will land in deficit hawk Kent Conrad’s lap.

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