Dem: If Coakley loses, health reforms may pass by reconciliation

By Stephen C. Webster
Saturday, January 16, 2010 13:21 EDT
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Could a special election in Massachusetts completely derail President Obama’s health reforms? Not if Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has his way.

Massachusetts voters will decide on Tuesday whether to elect Republican Scott Brown or Democrat Martha Coakley to serve the remainder of the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s term. Should Brown be elected, the Democratic super majority in the U.S. Senate would be broken, endangering passage of the health reform bill.

Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, stressed during a recent Bloomberg television appearance that if Brown wins, Democrats may yet pass the health overhaul through the process of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a parliamentary tactic most often reserved for budgetary matters. It clear way for the majority to pass its legislation with a mere 51 votes, as opposed to the 60 needed for the traditional legislative process.

“Even before Massachusetts and that race was on the radar screen, we prepared for the process of using reconciliation,” Van Hollen said. “Getting health-care reform passed is important. … Reconciliation is an option.”

Recent polls in Massachusetts show the race between Coakley and Brown to be dead even, even leaning slightly toward Brown. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) predicted that Brown’s election would “kill the health bill,” according to the Associated Press.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced Friday that President Obama would make a campaign stop in Boston on behalf of Coakley. The election takes place on Tuesday.

Should Democrats in Congress use reconciliation to pass the package of reforms, they risk losing measures “that had no budgetary, or fiscal, relevance,” according to The Financial Times.

Other tactics Democrats could use to pass the legislation include pushing the House to vote in favor of the Senate bill that passed by a razor-thin margin on Christmas eve, or temporarily delaying certification of the Massachusetts election results in order to clear the final legislative hurdles with their present majority intact.

Republicans have criticized the threat of using reconciliation to pass the health reforms as a type of “Chicago politics.” However, the GOP utilized budget reconciliation to pass their own legislation in 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2005, according to MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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