Kennedy’s death and the future of healthcare reform
My friend Washington analyst Pete Davis give his always-insightful two cents:
1) Senator Kennedy’s death is quite a blow to hopes for health care reform. No only could Kennedy rally the troops for the tough parliamentary battles ahead, his seat will sit vacant until late January. Under Massachusetts law, a special election must be held within 145 to 160 days to fill the vacancy and there will be no interim appointment in the meantime. That robs Senate Democrats of a vote until then, leaving them one short of the 60 they need to overcome a filibuster.
2) Reconciliation may be pursued, but it’s a tortuous path. President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders have talked about using reconciliation to pursue a Democrats only health reform. That would allow Senate passage by a majority vote, but it comes with a lot of downside risk. First, it guarantees no Republican would support it, and there are some Democrats who oppose using reconciliation too. So that could be a close vote as well. Second, making health reform work under reconciliation is not easy. The Senate Parliamentarian would work day and night to decide what provisions are “extraneous,” meaning they don’t affect the budget and must be jettisoned.
3) I’ve been surprised in recent discussions with Senate Democratic staff at how much they think they can get past the Parliamentarian, like a Medicare Advisory Council, but a lot of insurance reforms etc. would have to pass in a separate bill. If you end up with one bill and not the other, you’ve got a mess. Finally, using reconciliation in such a partisan manner would impair its use in the future to reduce the deficit. That has always been its intended purpose, and we will surely need it.