Political Primer on Healthcare Reconciliation

What it is – How it Works

By Staff Reporters

Several ME-P readers have contacted us for a definition of the term “reconciliation” and what it means in the current political debates and the recent Healthcare Summit in Washington, DC.

Definition,

According to Wikipedia, Reconciliation is a legislative process intended to allow consideration of a contentious budget bill without the threat of filibuster. Introduced in 1974, reconciliation limits debate and amendment, and therefore favors the majority party. Reconciliation also exists in the House of Representatives, but because the House regularly passes rules that constrain debate and amendment, the process has had a less significant impact on that body.

Healthcare Significance  

“In 2009 the House and Senate each passed separate healthcare reform bills. The Senate bill passed only after all 60 members of the Democratic caucus voted for cloture to stop an attempted Republican filibuster. Negotiations to produce a compromise bill acceptable to majorities in both houses were thrown off track by Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts.

After Brown’s victory, the Democratic caucus no longer had enough votes to stop a Senate filibuster of the compromise bill. An alternative plan was for the House to pass the Senate bill verbatim, and for each house to pass another bill that would embody the compromises agreed to in the negotiations. This separate piece of legislation, which might possibly include a public option, would require use of the reconciliation procedure in the Senate.”

Of Minutia

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 3rd of next year before sending it to the President and starting the 10-day Constitutional veto clock).

Assessment

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said: “Using reconciliation would be an acknowledgment that there is bipartisan opposition to their bill, another in a series of backroom deals, and the clearest signal yet that they’ve decided to completely ignore the American people.” according to the New York Times, February 19, 2010.

Other opponents of Democratic legislative initiatives in the 111th Congress began to refer to reconciliation as the “nuclear option, although that term had previously been used to refer only to a majoritarian procedure to effect a formal change in Senate rules.

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Note: Cloture  is the only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.

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