GOP senators wage war on reconciliation

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Senate Republicans say they uniformly will oppose all procedural votes on President Obama’s health care overhaul plan - even if they agree with the underlying policy changes - hoping to send a message Wednesday to House Democrats that reconciliation won’t be easy.

Democrats, meanwhile, are considering adding student-loan reforms to the health bill, a move that could make reconciliation even more complicated.

All 41 Senate Republicans signed on to a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid promising to protest use of the filibuster-busting reconciliation process by opposing every effort to improve the measure, even if they agree with the policy behind it, such as changes to abortion language

Democrats are embarking on a complicated plan to finish work on Mr. Obama’s health plan. It requires the House first to pass the Senate’s reform bill and then address a series of repairs to the Senate bill. The repair package would pass the Senate through reconciliation, which needs just 51 votes.

Each line of the companion bill will need to be related to the budget or risk being deleted by the parliamentarian, a requirement called the Byrd Rule. The only way to get the language back in the bill is a procedural vote that needs the support of 60 lawmakers.

“As it takes 60 votes to waive the Byrd Rule, 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,” the letter says.

Republicans say the use of reconciliation to pass the health care companion bill would be a gross violation of the procedure, designed to make repairs to the nation’s budget.

The reconciliation strategy requires House Democrats to trust that Senate Democrats will be able to pass the companion bill once the original Senate bill passes. If not, they could be stuck with the Senate bill becoming law. It contains a number of provisions unpopular with House Democrats, such as state-specific funding that they call kickbacks in exchange for votes and a tax on high-cost insurance plans.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and majority whip, said House Democrats are more likely to trust their counterparts in the Senate, not Republicans.

“I don’t think [Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell is the best sort of political [adviser] for most Democrats,” he said Wednesday.

House Democrats have been outspoken with their apprehension that the Senate will not follow through with reconciliation. The House already has passed nearly 300 bills this year that haven’t been acted on by the Senate, leaving some lawmakers with politically risky votes - such as the so-called ‘cap and trade’ energy bill - that won’t become law.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed any lack of trust between the two chambers.

“It’s not a question of confidence,” she told reporters Tuesday after a meeting between the House, Senate and White House as they wait for the Congressional Budget Office to analyze their legislative proposal. “It’s a question now of making sure that those numbers are what we represent them to be.”

They are considering adding to the companion bill a series of student-loan reforms that would eliminate subsidies banks get for underwriting the loans.

But six of the more moderate Democrats cautioned Wednesday that they are leery of such reforms, which could cost jobs at banks and loan providers and could jeopardize support for the companion bill if it’s included.

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