Democrats May Use “Nuclear Option” to Pass Healthcare Reform

The Obama administration is playing hardball to force Congress to pass healthcare reform legislation before the end of the year – preferably without the customary Republican-led filibuster delaying the final vote. obamahealthcare President Obama’s aggressive approach to protect healthcare legislation from Republican filibusters demonstrates the magnitude this ambitious reform package and has come to be called in some circles the nuclear option.

The agreement between the White House and Congressional Democrats lets healthcare legislation that meets budget targets win approval by a simple Senate majority — a process called reconciliation.  Not surprisingly, Republican leaders are up in arms about the no-filibuster deal, claiming that healthcare is too important to be exempt from the Senate’s usual rules.

Republicans have threatened to use their own procedural weapons to bog down the Senate if the Democrats try to restrict filibusters.  Options include forcing multiple votes on routine bills, inaction on administration nominations, or requiring lengthy legislation to be read in full.  Even some Democrats – notably Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana – are uncomfortable with reconciliation.  Other Democrats point out that Senate Republicans successfully used reconciliation to enact President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

The president is relying on his significant political capital to push his agenda through, relying on unwavering support from his sizable Senate Democratic majority.  This is likely to total 60 Senators once the Minnesota courts finally certify Al Franken’s victory, and as a result of Arlen Specter’s surprise exit from the Republican Party. That could give President Obama the filibuster-proof majority he wants.

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