The White House insisted on Thursday that it was open to the use of a parliamentary procedure that would prevent health care reform from being filibustered by Republicans in the Senate.
Speaking minutes after President Barack Obama met with a group of bipartisan lawmakers from the Senate Finance Committee, spokesman Robert Gibbs stressed that the administration's preference was to get a health care bill passed through normal measures. But, in one of the strongest indications to date that the president is willing to circumvent Republicans, Gibbs affirmatively stated that the use reconciliation (a move that allows bills to be considered on an up-or-down basis) was on the White House's mind.
"Obviously, the President meeting with Democrats and Republicans means the President is interested in doing this first and foremost through regular order," he said. "Obviously the option for reconciliation was contained in the budget and we will certainly cross that bridge when we get there."
"It is certainly out there," Gibbs added.
The remark reflects an increased willingness on the part of Democrats to openly discuss how to marginalize the role of Republicans in the health care process. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) began the process earlier in the week when he argued that the party should have "contingencies" should the Senate Finance Committee not be able to produce a bipartisan bill by September 15.
The administration's view of reconciliation for health care has evolved since late June, when Gibbs punted on the idea.
"Again, I think that gets a great deal ahead of where we are in the process," he said during a briefing on June 30. "I think the president has confidence in the system working."
Senate Majority Leader Harry was less open when asked about reconciliation at a Thursday press conference. "We're not even discussing it. We believe health care will be bipartisan," he said.
A reporter noted that Sen. Schumer had said that it's an option.
"Well, I've never known Schumer to have said anything wrong," Reid quipped.
"Get that down!" Schumer exclaimed.
"Seriously, reconciliation," said Reid. "We know it's back there. We don't want to use reconciliation unless we have to. We hope we won't have to."
Additional reporting by Ryan Grim.