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Reconciliation Gaining Steam

Now it’s about finding the least worst option.

Congressional leaders scrambling to salvage their health care overhaul are zeroing in on a procedural gambit that would require a simple majority in the Senate.

Although Democrats aren’t sure how long it would take or exactly what it would look like, using budget reconciliation rules to drag reform across the finish line is becoming the majority’s last hope for achieving a comprehensive bill.

“We are trying to figure out what is possible,” cautioned House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who outlined the idea Tuesday. Hoyer said that pursuing a scaled-back version of health care reform is also being considered, and that Democrats are hoping to agree on a path forward by next week.

Both Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated Tuesday that they do not have the votes to pass the Senate’s $871 billion measure as is but might be able to do so if it is “corrected” via a reconciliation bill.

After a bicameral meeting of Democratic leaders Tuesday where the idea was discussed, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that they had the votes to pass the Senate’s bill with the right fixes.

Asked about Clyburn’s statement, Pelosi said, “It depends what the fixes are.”

Predictably, moderate Senate Democrats have been skeptical of such a maneuver, with a few — Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.) — opposing it outright Tuesday.

But centrists are largely irrelevant, given that just 50 Senators and Vice President Joseph Biden are needed to pass a reconciliation bill.

And more liberal Senators, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), said they support using the procedural maneuver to get health care reform done.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), however, said that Democrats should first “reinvite” Republicans to the table and see if they can be bargained with to support a final package.

“If they turn you down, I think you can convince the public that you tried once again and they have refused and therefore you have to do what you have to do” to pass the bill, Dodd said. He said that there is a risk if Democrats go straight to reconciliation, saying they could be accused of legislative “gimmickry.”

Dodd, a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that starting over with a new bill isn’t acceptable, nor is shoving something through in the next couple of weeks.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), one of the last votes for the Senate package that cleared on Christmas Eve, didn’t reject reconciliation entirely but also said leaders should first try to get a bipartisan deal.

“The question is do you want to try to find any procedural way you can to get something through or do you want to try to reach out one more time to see if we can do this in a bipartisan way,” Lieberman told reporters.

But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) defended the possible use of the filibuster-busting tactic, while cautioning that no decisions have been made.

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