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GOP Plots Revenge

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) both said Wednesday that they would prefer not to have to use reconciliation to reach a deal on health care, but were adamant about retaining the tool as leverage. Baucus acknowledged that the procedural maneuver could lead to partisan warfare in the Senate down the line.

“Obviously, reconciliation tends to be partisan,” said Baucus, who along with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), has been charged with writing the Senate health care bill. “The more nonpartisan our approach to health care reform, the better it’s going to be.”

“Sen. Reid hopes that Republicans will work with us to develop a health care reform bill that wins bipartisan support,” added Jim Manley, the Majority Leader’s spokesman. “His preference would be to use the normal legislative process.”

Republicans’ decision to exact revenge over the Democratic use of reconciliation may well depend on the popularity of the final health care bill, GOP sources said. Republicans say they would likely ratchet up their counteroffensive gradually.

According to a former Senate Republican leadership aide, the GOP might first go after White House nominations. Republicans could require each appointee to get a separate hearing and a separate roll call vote. They could stop attending committee hearings, and decline to provide “unanimous consent” to move forward on even the most benign issues or routine Senate business. Republicans could also demand that the text of bills, which are often hundreds of pages long, be read aloud.

These tactics could grind the Senate to a virtual halt, Republicans say.

The former Senate GOP leadership aide said such moves are usually made at the direction of the leadership, but explained that individual Senators might act on their own if they are angry enough. The source added that leadership might direct various Members to engage in some of these activities and serve as “weather balloons” to gauge the public’s reaction. If there is no backlash, such actions “could escalate,” the former aide said.

Cornyn described the Democrats’ possible use of reconciliation to push through health care legislation as “probably the most aggressive move that Democrats could possibly make. And, yes, in the Senate there are all sorts of ways to exact a price for abuse of your majority status.”

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