Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Parties Begin to Set Reconciliation Battle Plans

“It needs to be airtight so there’s nothing the Republicans can do to bring down the whole bill. Our Members are going to have to take a lot of tough votes,” the senior Democratic Senate aide said. “I don’t know what the vehicle is for an assurance. But assurances mean nothing without legislative language.”

As of press time Friday, House and Senate leaders had not sent their reconciliation proposal to the CBO for an official cost estimate, a second senior aide said. Leaders “are still in the process of consulting with Members” on the policy changes in the bill, this aide said. The Obama administration has set a March 18 deadline for the House to act; the Senate hopes to complete its work by March 26, the last day before a scheduled two-week Congressional recess.

Both Republican Congresses and presidents have used reconciliation in the past. But Republicans are crying foul over the Democrats’ use of the procedure in this instance, arguing that it has mostly been used to clear bills that had overwhelming bipartisan support.

Given that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) went through regular order to pass the chamber’s $871 billion health care bill, Republican Senators last week said they felt a certain responsibility during the December debate to avoid going nuclear and bringing the chamber to a screeching halt with unreasonable delays.

But in light of the Democrats’ decision to pursue reconciliation and believing public opinion is with them, Republicans are vowing to do whatever it takes to kill a reconciliation bill. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Capitol Hill veteran of more than 30 years, said the floor fracas could be among the most intense of his career.

The Republicans’ strategy to defeat the reconciliation bill includes raising numerous budget points of order where they feel the legislation violates the rules and proposing an infinite number of amendments. Unlike a normal bill, Reid cannot prevent Senators from proposing any number of amendments to a reconciliation package.

“It’s certainly going to be a big fight,” Hatch said. “It’s a very improper use of reconciliation.”

But Democrats disagree, contending that using a narrow reconciliation package to enact health care is justified given that the bulk of the overhaul would have been approved in the usual manner and garnered 60 Senate votes. While many Senate Democrats acknowledge that the Republicans might trip them up, others are more optimistic.

“We’ll get it done because it’s such a sense of inevitability,” Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said. “This is going to pass.”

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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