By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
A unified Senate GOP let the Democrats know Wednesday that it will resist efforts to ram the healthcare bill through Congress using the legislative maneuver known as the reconciliation process.
In a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, the 41 members of the Senate Republican Conference announced they would vote as a bloc in order to remove the changes needed to "fix" the Senate healthcare bill that are necessary to winning the votes of recalcitrant House Democrats unhappy with the cost of the total package as well as the comparatively weaker language banning abortion funding.
As things currently stand, the House must pass without amendment the version of the healthcare bill approved by the Senate at Christmas in order to get around the possibility of a GOP filibuster. If the Senate bill is amended in the House it would have to go back to the Senate once again, where it would be "dead on arrival" because Reid is now one vote short of the 60 he needs to bring it to the floor.
To get around this problem, congressional Democrats have been working on a strategy involving the reconciliation process where the changes demanded by wavering Democrats necessary to winning their votes for the Senate version of the healthcare bill would be worked out in reconciliation, a parliamentary maneuver typically used to address budget and spending issues that cannot be stopped with the filibuster.
The GOP letter makes its combined objection to the strategy clear.
"To endeavor to ensure that the reconciliation process is not used to fast-track an unpopular bill through Congress," the 41 Republicans wrote Reid, "we wish to inform you that we will oppose efforts to waive the so-called Byrd Rule during Senate consideration of any reconciliation bill concerning health reform."
The "Byrd Rule" was created by former Senate Democratic Leader Robert Byrd as a way of ensuring that reconciliation bills--which are not subject to the filibuster--are not used to enact policy changes that are not primarily and specifically related to the federal budget.
"As it takes 60 votes to waive the Byrd Rule," the Republicans wrote, "we can ensure that any provision that trips the Byrd Rule will be stripped from the bill, which will require that the bill be sent back to the House for further consideration and additional votes."
Using the Byrd Rule to strip out the needed legislative fixes--like new compromise language on abortion--that House Democrats will need to pass the larger bill is a superior bit of strategy, the kind the GOP is often thought incapable of developing. The GOP may have found a way to check the Democrats in their race to get healthcare done before the end of the current Congress.