I have reverse-engineered what is possibly the Obama administration's timetable for passing massive health care reform. By piecing together dozens of interviews, news reports, and knowledge about Congress, I've been able to construct what I believe to be Obama's overall strategy. Using all available information, I believe Obama plans to sign a health care bill in late May or early June of 2009.
Step 1. Lay out the budget with $634 billion for health care.
Step 2. Announce both a HHS secretary and a health care czar as a clear indication that Obama is planning to move full-speed ahead. They will now have all the important players in place for the first health care summit on Thursday.
Step 3. Have a group of senators lay out a detailed outline of the bill at the health care summit Thursday. Senator Baucus released a white paper on health care reform right after the election and has been working on it since. Senator Kennedy has also been having secret, closed-door meetings on health care for months now. The optics here are very important. It will be members of Congress and not the Obama team which presents the detailed outline. This way, they can avoid one of the biggest complaints against Clinton's health care plan.
Step 4. Use the detailed outline on health care reform to test the water for support. This will result in one of two possible paths to passing the legislation.
Step 5. Writing and Passing the bill.
A) The bipartisan route: If a substantial number of Republican senators (5 to 11) show support for the bill, they will move quickly to negotiate and write the legislation throughout March. With Republican support, a bipartisan bill should be finished sometime in May. Voting and reconciliation will take a week or two, and the bill will arrive on Obama's desk at the end of May or early June.
B) The partisan route: If Republican senators appear initially united against the outline of the health care reform proposal, the Democrats will choose to play hardball. If there is not strong bipartisan support at the start, it will mean that the Republicans have decided to sink health care to sink Obama. It will be a clear sign they do not plan to negotiate in good faith. The Democrats will use the budget reconciliation rule to pass health care with only 51 votes. They may make it a stand-alone bill or more likely embed it in the new budget (which is also on schedule to be passed in May).