Sen. Reid Willing to Fast-Track Health Care Overhaul; Republicans Cry Foul
March 26, 2009 - 4:11 AMSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated Wednesday he is willing to move sweeping health care legislation through the Senate with a procedural maneuver that would block a GOP filibuster.
The prospect of the controversial tactic has already ignited Republicans' ire, and key Senate Democratic chairmen have said they don't want to do it.
Reid, D-Nev., took a different position on a conference call with reporters. "I think it's something we need to consider," Reid said.
At issue is a so-called reconciliation bill, which could pass with a simple majority of 51 votes and without Democrats fearing a GOP filibuster. Democrats would struggle to gather 60 votes needed to break a filibuster for something as complex as a plan to meet President Barack Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's health care system to cover 48 million uninsured Americans.
Revising health care via reconciliation has been viewed favorably by House Democrats. The House Budget Committee included language providing for the method in its annual budget resolution released Wednesday. Reconciliation is not favored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and was not part of his committee's plan.
White House officials reiterated Wednesday that it's not their preferred method but they don't want to take it off the table.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is attempting to write a bipartisan health care bill with his committee's top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Baucus has said he doesn't want to resort to reconciliation.
"We have to give this bipartisan effort of Sen. Baucus a shot," Reid said, before enumerating the ways reconciliation could be done: either in a House-Senate conference committee convened to merge the chambers' budget resolutions, or by having the Senate pass a second budget resolution.
"There are a number of different ways that can be accomplished, if in fact we decide we need to do that," Reid said.
Reid also offered a novel proposal for paying for redoing the nation's health system.
He suggested using $646 billion that would be collected under a controversial Obama proposal to auction off greenhouse gas pollution allowances.
"That's exactly how much we need for the first phase of health care reform," Reid said.
Obama wants to use the $646 billion to cover extending his middle-class tax cuts -- a $400 tax credit for workers and $800 for couples -- beyond 2010. That tax cut for two years was part of the $787 billion stimulus bill Congress passed last month.
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