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GOP Plots Revenge

Reconciliation May Shut Down Senate

As Senate Democrats move closer to using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year, key GOP Senators are signaling plans to avenge the move by employing parliamentary tactics to trip up even the most noncontroversial of agenda items.

Although Senate Democrats are far from reaching a consensus on the reconciliation issue, party leaders confirmed Wednesday that they are reserving the right to use it to pass health care reform if Republicans fail to negotiate in good faith. Senate Republicans — saying they have every intention of being a full partner in the upcoming health care negotiations — said holding reconciliation in reserve could poison the discussions, and threatened retribution.

“If they go down that road, I think the fur is going to fly,” Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. “I suspect that there is going to be an awful lot of resistance, and we will exercise our prerogatives so that the rules of the Senate are respected.”

Some top GOP Senators declined to speculate on how their Conference would respond if Democrats use reconciliation to pass health care reform. Senior Republican Senate aides say it is too early to discuss retaliation for something that might not occur; they prefer to focus instead on trying to shape a bill that they can embrace.

But other key Republican Senators were candid that reconciliation, while difficult for them to stop, would prompt them to try to trip up Democratic priorities — large and small.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was a member of the 2005 bipartisan “Gang of 14” that negotiated a deal on President George W. Bush’s stalled judicial nominees, said he would be willing to tap into the Senate’s parliamentary arsenal to block the majority from pursuing its agenda.

Similarly, National Republican Senatorial Committee John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) predicted that the GOP Conference would respond to Democrats’ use of reconciliation on health care with tough action.

Hatch, a key negotiator on health care reform, early in his Senate career successfully filibustered a union-backed labor bill even though Democrats controlled the chamber. He acknowledged he wouldn’t be able to stop the Democrats from using reconciliation to pass heath care this year, but strongly cautioned Democrats against using it. Reconciliation, if included in a final budget resolution, would allow Democrats to advance health care — or other major policy proposals — on a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 required under regular order.

“There would be a lot of things done” in retaliation, Hatch said. “I know what to do; I’ve been there.”

Previous Senates, whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans, have used reconciliation, usually to raise or lower federal income tax rates. This current crop of GOP Senators contends the tool was not intended to advance major programmatic changes — such as an overhaul of the health care industry.

While many Democrats want to use reconciliation to advance what they say is an essential legislative priority, still others, including Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), are opposed to using it.

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