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Democrats have plenty of reasons to try to pass health care reform through the Senate using reconciliation to avoid the need for a 60-vote majority. But using the process would constitute a risky roll of the dice for party leaders.
Democratic strategists clearly understand the importance of passing some sort of health care reform bill before November, and they arent at all optimistic about working with Republicans from scratch on a new measure. Their view, right or wrong, is that Republicans arent serious about working on a bipartisan measure.
Given that, reconciliation could be the only way for Democrats and for the president to pass a bill that they desperately need in order to deliver on a key campaign promise.
Using reconciliation to circumvent unified Republican opposition would generate applause on the left, and especially with Democrats who have complained that party leaders have placed too high a priority on reaching out to Republicans and not enough on passing reform that the Democratic base wants.
Democratic enthusiasm has been a problem at the grass roots (at least compared with the GOP), so a confrontation with Republicans over reconciliation and passage of a reform bill would almost certainly energize Democrats (assuming, of course, that the grass roots were pleased with the final bill). That could close the enthusiasm gap that separates the two parties going into the midterm elections.
One GOP strategist I talked with argued that Democrats have already been damaged by the health care reform debate, and using reconciliation would not make things that much worse for the presidents party.
Passing any health care reform bill could lead to a quick uptick in overall public sentiment, since some of the negativity about Congress and about the direction of the country stems from Washingtons inability to address the nations toughest problems.
But while using the reconciliation process could help Democrats deliver on their promise, it could also give Republicans yet another arrow in the partys already well-stocked quiver.
While Republican legislators and their talking-head allies would be sure to bash the substance of the proposal just as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did on Monday in his press release, criticizing another partisan, back-room bill that slashes Medicare for our seniors, raises a half-trillion in new taxes, fines them if they dont buy the right insurance and further expands the role of government they also would be able to attack Democrats for how they passed the measure.
I recently spoke with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, a veteran of the health care wars, about the danger Democrats face using reconciliation to pass health care reform, and he thinks the tactic would be a gamble for Democrats.
Process issues usually dont matter, acknowledged McInturff, before noting that this time things could be different.