"The only way this works is for the House to pass the Senate bill and then, depending on what the package is, the reconciliation provision that moves first through the House and then comes here," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) outside the upper chamber this morning. "That's the only way that works."
I pointed out that House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has repeatedly insisted they won't take a flier on a reconciliation package--that they will only pass the Senate bill after the smaller side-car reconciliation bill has been all wrapped up.
"Fine, then it's dead," Conrad said.
I simply do not believe Nancy Pelosi can ever whip the votes to pass the current Senate bill unchanged. Even with a solemn promise from Democratic senators that they would support reconciliation, I don't believe it is possible.
Voting on the Senate bill first would require House Democrats to vote for the Cornhusker kickback, the extremely toxic excise tax, and the Nelson abortion language that Bart Stupak has called unacceptable. That vote would be bad politics even if the reconciliation fix did happen later--and there is no reason to trust that it would. The House Democrats simply don't--and shouldn't--trust the Senate Democrats. Also, the reconciliation fixes Obama outlined are small, and unlikely to make the unpopular Senate bill any more popular.
If (and that is a big “if”) Conrad is correct and Pelosi is wrong, the Senate bill and reconciliation sidecar strategy are really dead. I can't see them passing the House and Democrats need to switch to a plan B. It would seem Democrats' best path forward is to pass a new clean, simple, easy to explain, reconciliation-only bill. Say, for example, just Medicaid/CHIP for all the uninsured below 200% FPL, and small business tax credits to help buy insurance. The only other option is to see what small bipartisan bills are out there and try to do a piece-by-piece approach.