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Reconciliation Rules - Not Bipartisanship - Will Kill Health Care Reform

Posted: 06/18/09 08:08 PM ET

Right off the bat, I want to be clear: I support health care reform. I share all of the goals laid out by the president in his June 2 letter. I believe that every American should have high-quality, affordable health care. And I believe that reforming health care should be Congress's top priority.

Let me repeat that: health care reform should be Congress's top priority. We are not here to slow it down. That's the Senate's job. So don't believe the phony talking points that are being circulated that we're trying to "slow down the process." The process is already creaking under its own weight and we haven't even seen full bill text yet. Don't take my word for it; just read your own publications.

On the contrary, we are trying to ensure that reform actually happens. We are here because we see health care reform bogging down in the Senate, and we worry that the chance to achieve this great victory for the American people is slipping out of reach.

Here's why what's happening in the Senate worries me so much. If reform gets bogged down, it will have to go through the Senate's reconciliation process. This is not good news for supporters of health care reform. In fact, it's awful news.

Reconciliation is just what the trillion dollars of vested interests who want to kill health care reform are hoping for. That's because they know something that few people in Washington have figured out: the Senate's very restrictive reconciliation rules will prevent a true health care reform bill from passing.

Has anyone here actually looked at the reconciliation process and the Byrd rule? Every committee would have to report a bill that reduced the deficit by $1 billion in five years. It would have to be deficit-neutral each year after that. It couldn't include "extraneous" material -- like all the vitally important changes to our health care delivery system. Or, if we couldn't find the savings, our grand health care reform achievement would have to sunset.

In short, health care reform under reconciliation wouldn't be health care reform at all. It would be a deficit reduction bill relating to health care. Or a reform package with an expiration date.

And hey, you know me, I think deficit reduction is great. But this is about passing a robust health care reform bill. One that provides every American with low-cost, high-quality health insurance. One that focuses on prevention. One that keeps people healthy. One that gives them choices. One that modernizes our delivery system. And one that lowers cost. After all, the out-of-control cost of health care is bankrupting the American people.

Something major happened yesterday. Democrats and Republicans, working together, unveiled a bipartisan comprehensive health care reform plan. Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and Howard Baker did what Congress is failing to do. They met all of President Obama's goals, and they fully financed their proposal.

And the White House released a statement praising this bipartisan leadership. In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, we are explicitly told not to work with Republicans.

Now, my personal belief is that Congress could begin marking up the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act right away. Smart commentators like Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic and Ezra Klein at the Washington Post have praised this bill. It's progressive, it's bipartisan and it's deficit-neutral.

All I know is that health care reform is on life support because the Senate can't figure out how to pay for it. Jon Cohn and Ezra Klein are worried. I'm worried. And I'm speaking out today because I've been through a failed health care reform process before. We can't afford to repeat those mistakes this year. Let's follow President Obama's lead and work together to finally provide health care to every American. And let's do it right now.