Getting to Yes

Jonathan Cohn reports on a Democratic strategy memo that outlines a plan for passing healthcare reform:

The gist is pretty simple: The House takes up the Senate bill and passed it by March 19. A few days later it passes a reconciliation bill and sends it over to the Senate, which starts the voting process on March 26.

It’s a “process” because, even though the reconciliation process limits debate to 20 hours, it doesn’t limit amendments. And Republicans have warned they plan to introduce an amendment, forcing Democrats to take difficult votes, for as long as they can.

That’s probably not a major issue. Sen. Kent Conrad explains:

Reconciliation is limited in time to 20 hours of consideration. At the end of that time, you can continue to offer amendments. You could offer 10,000. But if the parliamentarian judges someone as being dilatory, that can be stopped. If he says they’re just offering amendments to delay final action, he can rule to shut that down.

There are going to be lots of votes and lots of delaying tactics offered up by Republicans. But the whole point of the reconciliation process is to allow budget-related bills to pass in a reasonable timeframe on a majority vote. It might take more than 20 hours, but Republicans can’t hold it up forever. If Democrats are serious about this, they can pass both the main bill and a package of amendments via reconciliation, and they can do it within weeks, not months. This is on them, not the GOP.

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