Laying out the way forward on health care reform Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) confirmed that Congress and the White House are discussing the use of reconciliation to "correct" the Senate legislation with a supplemental bill that would require only a simple majority in the upper chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) avoided using that particular parliamentary tactic for health care last year, partly because reconciliation bars the inclusion of policy provisions that don't affect overall cost. But since the Senate has already passed the fundamental health reform bill, reconciliation could be used to fast-track a bill that simply amends cost provisions in the existing legislation -- if the House votes to pass the main Senate bill as is. The alternative, crafting a compromise bill in conference, would require 60 votes in the Senate again.
The reconciliation proposal has gained serious attention in the week since Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof supermajority with the election of Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's former seat. At his weekly press briefing Tuesday, Hoyer said the use of a supplemental health reform bill is "certainly" one of the top four options being considered.
"The last option that's being discussed is to try to correct the Senate bill with a majority vote in both the House and the Senate and then pass the Senate bill as corrected or pass the Senate bill with the understanding that it will be corrected by another piece of legislation," Hoyer said. The other three options he listed were: giving up on health care entirely; passing a "lesser form" of reform; and rubber-stamping the Senate bill with no supplemental. "There may be other options, but those are certainly four that have been discussed," Hoyer said.
And of the four options Hoyer listed, he only gave serious credence to reconciliation. The majority leader made headlines earlier Tuesday at the National Press Club for admitting that abandoning health reform was one possibility Democrats had discussed, but he said at the press briefing that it's not being strongly considered. "I don't think most of us believe that's an option given the challenge that confronts our citizens, individually and as families, as businesses," he said at the press briefing. "I think you won't find a member who will say we ought not to do anything, just drop it and turn away."
He wasn't much more enthusiastic about the second option, "to try to do some lesser form of the bill." This would most likely entail a bill that retains nominal consumer protections but doesn't expand coverage. That would not meet the core Democratic objective of increased affordability, Hoyer said, for which "you've got to have an expansion of the pool of insureds."
And like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Hoyer said the House won't just rubber-stamp the Senate bill. "I don't think that's a very viable option, I think the Speaker's right that we don't have the votes on the House floor for the Senate bill," he said.
That's not to say reconciliation is a done deal. "Frankly, we're trying to figure out what's possible," Hoyer said.
The White House remains an active part of ongoing negotiations, but Hoyer said he doesn't expect President Obama's State of the Union address to feature any process-related talk on health care reform. "I would be surprised if he says specifically how he hopes to get health care done," he said.