Obama Pushes for Reconciliation

Published May 31, 2016

In the wake of a bipartisan summit at Blair House, President Obama and his allies signaled their intention to press ahead with the controversial reconciliation method of passing the President’s health care reform package. 

“What’s the point of talking about it any longer?” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in an appearance on ABC News’ This Week program on February 28.

Timing Problem Looms

Reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure typically limited to ensuring passage of a budget and deficit policy in each Congress, would bypass the 60-vote requirement for avoiding a filibuster in the Senate and allow the bill to be passed on a simple majority vote. It would also require the House to pass the Senate version of the health care bill, a measure unpopular with several Democrat House members for its lack of union-plan protections and institution of taxpayer funded abortions.

“The sequencing would have to be overcome. The Democrats cannot overcome the life hurdle in the reconciliation approach, ensuring that the bill would be opposed by the pro-life community and the Catholic bishops,” said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA).

Reconciliation allows for an expanded amendment process on the Senate floor, ensuring a significant amount of time before final passage could be attained, in what is expected to be a Democrats-only vote given the inability to reach bipartisan cooperation.

“It’s very easy for the president to claim bipartisanship but not actually apply it; we all want to do something on medical malpractice reform, but we have very different solutions,” Cantor said. “We all want to do something about preexisting conditions, but again, the solutions are very different. We have to be honest about our disagreements.”

Unprecedented Tactic

According to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who personally asked Obama to rule out any use of the reconciliation process at the beginning of the Blair House session, such a use of the parliamentary tactic to pass sweeping domestic policy reform is unprecedented. 

“There’s never been anything of this size and magnitude and complexity run through the Senate in this way,” Alexander told reporters on February 28. 

Given the risks of the reconciliation approach, it remains possible the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill will revert to a more modest plan, Cantor says. 

“If they fail to push an overall bill through reconciliation, they will attempt a rifle-shot bill including insurance regulations and Medicaid expansion,” Cantor said. “As far as the timing on it, I think it’s very clear that by the Easter break we’ll know if they are going to try to jam something through the House, but that is a natural backstop and is probably the last line.” 

Ben Domenech ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.