Paving the way? Democrats mull leg­isla­tive end-run for Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID R. SANDS

“Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” is prov­ing a di­vi­sive word on Capi­tol Hill, where it could trig­ger one of the big­gest par­ti­san brawls of the year.

De­spite grow­ing com­plaints from Repub­li­cans and even some Democrats, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional leaders are re­fus­ing to rule out by­pass­ing reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive rules to push through some of their top pol­icy pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing health care and en­ergy re­form, and avoid Repub­li­can stalling tac­tics.

It may sound like an ar­cane par­lia­men­tary de­bate, but a de­ci­sion to add Mr. Obama’s re­forms to the fi­nal bud­get bill that emerges from rec­on­cil­ing the House and Se­nate ver­sions would elim­i­nate the fil­i­buster — the mi­nor­ity Repub­li­cans’ most po­tent tool to in­flu­ence bills and slow down the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity.

In prac­tice, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, would need just a sim­ple ma­jor­ity to pass the bill, not the three-fifths su­per­ma­jor­ity needed to end a fil­i­buster. Democrats have a work­ing ma­jor­ity of 58 seats.

“Oh, I love 51 com­pared to 60,” Mr. Reid said March 12 when asked if he was con­sid­er­ing putting the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­ergy cap-and-trade bill on the bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion mea­sure. “We cer­tainly know that it is an al­ter­na­tive.”

Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get chief Peter R. Orszag de­clined to swear off the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion route when tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee two weeks ago while say­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­ferred to use the regu- lar leg­isla­tive process.

“We have to keep ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble,” Mr. Orszag said. “We want to get th­ese im­por­tant things done this year.”

If it re­mains on the ta­ble, though, Mr. Orszag and Mr. Reid are guar­an­tee­ing them­selves a nasty fight.

“I re­ally do hope we fol­low the reg­u­lar or­der around here,” said Sen. Mark L. Pryor, a cen­trist Demo­crat from Arkansas. Courtly, soft-spo­ken Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can, told the Dow Jones News Ser­vice there would be “un­holy hell un­leashed” if the Obama health care pack­age were tacked onto the bud­get bill.

Mr. Pryor was one of eight Se­nate Democrats who joined 21 Repub­li­can col­leagues in a let­ter last week warn­ing Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Kent Con­rad, North Dakota Demo­crat, and rank­ing Repub- li­can Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hamp­shire against us­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to pass en­ergy ca­pand-trade leg­is­la­tion.

A bill “so far-reach­ing should be fully vet­ted and given ap­pro­pri­ate time for de­bate, some­thing the bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process does not al­low,” the law­mak­ers said. “Us­ing this pro­ce­dure would cir­cum­vent nor mal Se­nate prac­tice and would be in­con­sis­tent with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stated goals of bi­par­ti­san­ship, co­op­er­a­tion, and open­ness.”

Among the sign­ers were Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, and a slew of cen­trists Democrats whose votes could prove cru­cial to Mr. Obama’s agenda, in­clud­ing Sens. Ben Nel­son of Ne­braska, Mary Lan­drieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lin­coln of Arkansas and Evan Bayh of In­di­ana.

Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Max Bau­cus, Mon­tana Demo­crat and a crit­i­cal player in both the health care and en­ergy de­bates, said Democrats haven’t de­cided whether to use the bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.

Mr. Bau­cus said af­ter an ad­dress to a busi­ness health care fo­rum two weeks ago that he would pre­fer not to go the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion route, say­ing he still hopes for strong bi­par ti­san sup­port for the mea­sures. He also has down­played spec­u­la­tion that there is grow­ing pres­sure from in­side his party for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

“I would not char­ac­ter­ize it as pres­sure — it has just been men­tioned,” he said. “It’s some Democrats, some in Congress, but it hasn’t risen to the level of pres­sure. Just mus­ings, ba­si­cally.”

Sean Lengell con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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