The more practical question is would Democrats, faced with Obama’s collapsing approval numbers and a precipitous drop in support for government-run health care, really try this stunt? Obama fan David Brooks warns:
This would be suicidal. You can’t pass the most important domestic reform in a generation when the majority of voters think you are on the wrong path. To do so would be a sign of unmitigated arrogance. If Obama agrees to use reconciliation, he will permanently affix himself to the liberal wing of his party and permanently alienate independents. He will be president of 35 percent of the country — and good luck getting anything done after that.
Other observers agree:
Resorting to a budget procedure called reconciliation would infuriate Republicans and force Democrats to settle for more limited changes, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “Both procedurally and politically, this may be a no-win,” Duffy said.
And indeed, many Democrats, including Sens. Conrad, Robert Byrd, Max Baucus, Jay Rockefeller, Byron Dorgan, Tom Carper, Russ Feingold, Mark Begich, and Mark Pryor, have, at one time or another, spoken out in opposition to using the reconciliation process for health care. So have Sens. Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh. The prospect of ramming through an historic and controversial health care bill on a bare majority vote in contravention of Senate tradition raises serious concerns for Democrats already struggling to avoid criticism that they are too partisan and too rushed in their approach to health care.
Given the uncertainty about the parliamentarian’s rulings, there also is no telling what sort of bill would come out of the reconciliation process. Some have described the potential result as “Swiss cheese.” Moreover, according to the budget rules the bill must present a net savings to the government. That will take mammoth tax increases or Medicare cuts to pay for over a trillion dollars in costs which the CBO estimated for some prior versions of health care reform. It simply isn’t clear then that Democrats could come up with a viable bill given the reconciliation requirements.
Republican senators do not expect Democratic leaders to make a decision on reconciliation immediately. Majority Leader Harry Reid gave Baucus until September 15 to come up with a Senate finance bill. Even if that effort falters, others may try to craft an alternative bipartisan approach before resorting to reconciliation.
But there really is no legal deadline to implementing the reconciliation option. It is “rare,” according to Senate minority aides, for reconciliation to be carried over from one congressional session to another. But Senate tradition and etiquette may not count for much this time around.
What will matter on health care is how desperate Democrats are to jam home a bill that can’t get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Public sentiment and Obama’s poll numbers may influence the decision, but in the end Reid will make the call. Whether he will pull the trigger is still anyone’s guess.