Reconciliation bill changed, still expected to pass today
As has been reported widely this morning, including by David Sirota, the Senate parliamentarian changed the reconciliation bill earlier today. This will require another vote in the House of Representatives.
The final vote in the Senate is expected at 2pm today. Steny Hoyer expects the House to vote on the bill today as well, a few hours after that.
The argument that any changes to the reconciliation in the bill would have defeated the bill does not appear to be holding up. However, these are minor changes, and so it could be argued that any substantial changes to the bill would have caused a more serious problem.
As far as the public option is concerned, there are good reasons to be cynical right now. Either the Democratic leadership doesn't care about it all that much, or they are actively working against it (I choose the former). House Whip James Clyburn says they have the votes to pass the public option. However, Speaker Pelosi said during a meeting last week with progressive bloggers that she was told the Senate did not have the votes (I was in attendance at that meeting), and as such did not try to add one to the reconciliation bill.
On the Senate side, Harry Reid has promised a vote on the public option, but all Democratic Senators have ruled out any strengthening amendments for this reconciliation bill, including a public option. So, the public option is therefore not allowed into the bill, and there is no public vote to verify the claim that there are not enough votes in the Senate. We are just supposed to believe that there are not enough, without any names ever being named.
Whether there are actually 50 votes in the Senate for the public option as a stand alone amendment is a debatable point, as here at Open Left we only ever proved there are 50 votes for a health reform bill that included a public option. What is not debatable is that the Democratic leadership did not try very hard, or possibly even at all, to include a public option in the reconciliation bill.
Republicans still taking process to the extreme, Democrats need to respond in kind
During most of March, Republicans declared that passing legislation with only 51 votes in the Senate was THE MOST TOTALITARIAN MOVE EVAH. Now, to no one's surprise, Republicans are voting to allow only 51 votes to change the reconciliation bill in many ways, including non-budgetary items that run afoul of the Byrd Rule, as long as they believe those changes help defeat the reconciliation bill. To put it bluntly, Republicans are willing to use any procedural means necessary to achieve their goals.
As such, the best move for Democrats is try and get reconciliation instructions for as much as possible in the budget bill that will be passed next month. This includes reconciliation instructions for health reform that will allow for a public option to pass in a new reconciliation bill, but it should also include things like energy and education, too.
These reconciliation bills are just about the only way Democrats can still govern. For example, Tom Coburn is going to "pull a Bunning" and filibuster an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits. The popularity, and immediate necessity, of such benefits far exceeds anything in the health reform package. If Democrats can't even get that done on time because of frakked up Senate procedure, the budget bill needs to leave Democrats with an option to pass as much legislation as possible with only 51 votes in 2010.
Republicans are using whatever procedural options they have to achieve their ends. At this point, Democrats have to respond in kind.