Byrd Endorses ‘Reconciliation’ to Fix Health Reform Bill

By Jonathan Blakely

Mar 5, 2010 9:59am

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports: The man who wrote Senate reconciliation rules now says Democrats can use the procedure for health reform as long as the Senate-passed bill is used as the basis. Reconciliation is the arcane parliamentary maneuver Democrats will use to pass a buffet of fix-its for their health reform bill with only 51 votes. He had opposed the maneuver to pass the bill to begin with. And Republicans often cite “the Byrd Rule” – named for Byrd – which says reconciliation shouldn’t be used for policy matters. But in a letter to the Charleston Daily Mail, the 92 year-old, rarely seen-these-days Senator says reconciliation can be used to “find savings” and fix the Senate reform bill. He says the bill already passed the Senate by a 60-vote supermajority, so it does not need to again. So it sounds like Byrd doesn’t like the idea of using reconciliation to change policy in the Senate bill, but he does endorse using it to work toward reducing the deficit. It is a little unclear how that Democrats will sell the fix-its as savings since all indications are that the tweaks proposed by President Obama could make the bill more expensive. A final cost estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet been released. Byrd offers a preview of how Democrats will argue that a more expensive bill reduces long-term spending: “…a bill structured to reduce deficits by, for example, finding savings in Medicare or lowering health care costs, may be consistent with the Budget Act, and appropriately considered under reconciliation,” he writes. Byrd wrote his letter in response to a Daily Mail editorial, which argued against Senators using a reconciliation bill to modify the Senate bill and mollify House liberals who don’t like the version of health reform the Senate passed December 24th. Here is the letter in it’s entirety: Thursday March 4, 2010
Reconciliation can be used to find savings
It has been said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In the Daily Mail's March 2 editorial regarding health care reform legislation, "Using reconciliation would hurt Democrats: Choking off debate is no way to muscle through health legislation," the newspaper's  misunderstanding of congressional procedures misinforms readers who, in rapidly increasing numbers, find themselves unable to obtain or afford medical insurance. The editorial correctly quoted me as saying in the spring of 2009 that using reconciliation to enact a huge health care package would "violate the intent and spirit of the budget process . . .". I believed then, as now, that the Senate should debate the health reform bill under regular rules, which it did. The result of that debate was the passing of a comprehensive health care reform bill in the Senate by a 60-vote supermajority. I continue to support the budget reconciliation process for deficit reduction. The entire Senate- or House- passed health care bill could not and would not pass muster under the current reconciliation rules, which were established under my watch. Yet a bill structured to reduce deficits by, for example, finding savings in Medicare or lowering health care costs, may be consistent with the Budget Act, and appropriately considered under reconciliation.
With all due respect, the Daily Mail's hyperbole about "imposing government control," acts of "disrespect to the American people" and "corruption" of Senate procedures resembles more the barkings from the nether regions of Glennbeckistan than the "sober and second thought" of one of West Virginia's oldest and most respected daily newspapers. My commitment to protecting the best interests of all West Virginians and the American people remains as firm and consistent as my devotion to observing the necessary and essential Senate rules and procedures intended to guarantee debate and the airing of diverse views. Robert C. Byrd Washington, D.C. Byrd is the senior U.S senator from West Virginia.

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