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Grijalva: Use Reconciliation to Pass Reform

As Democratic leaders scramble to salvage the imperiled reform bill, Congressional liberals seem increasingly wary about a plan that would ask the House to pass the current version of the Senate bill and send the bill directly to Obama’s desk. “The House needs to be very careful about not merely rubber-stamping the Senate bill and sending that to the president… I just don’t think it’s wise policy or wise politics to merely regurgitate [it],” Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told me this morning. He added that the promise to “fix” the Senate bill through separate legislation after the House passed it was unconvincing. “I don’t see the side-by-side thing working both procedurally and politically.

Instead, Grijalva proposed that the existing legislation be amended and sent back to the Senate to pass through budget reconciliation, which would only require 51 votes. “It could pass through reconciliation—it just depends on how skittish the Senate is at this point.” Using budget reconciliation to pass the bill would be politically messy would force the leadership to strip out many key provisions of reform, including many of the new regulatory reforms that don’t directly affect the budget. But, Grijalva said, it would leave Congress with “the option to deal with what the public option presence is going to be,” calling the public plan “the biggest deficit reducer” on the table. It would also allow legislators to consider the House’s national insurance exchange over Senate’s state-based exchange and close the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, Grijalva added. And, should all else fail, “Governor’s Dean comment—scrap the thing, have Medicare for all—becomes a third option.”

Despite the assertion from Republicans—and some moderate Democrats—that yesterday’s election was a referendum on Obama’s liberal agenda, Grijalva argued that the vote revealed the public dissatisfaction with key elements of the Senate bill—not reform itself. “The vote indicated a real anger against…the lack of transparency, against the fact there was no affordability, and that there was an excise tax,” he said, echoing Chris Van Hollen’s comments yesterday that special carve-outs like Nebraska’s Medicaid deal had encouraged voters to turn against the Democratic establishment. In other words, according to Grijalva--and a number of liberal activists*--ordinary Americans have soured on health reform because the Democrats haven’t gone far enough in pushing for more liberal elements of the bill that could gain popular support. As a result, as Ezra argues, the “inside game” of dealmaking between Democratic leaders, industry groups, and Senate centrists came to define the narrative of reform—creating an easy target for voters primed to lash out at the Washington establishment.

*A Research 2000 poll released today showed, for example, that 82% of Obama voters who went for Brown in Massachusetts support the public option. Such Obama-for-Brown voters also thought that the reform bill “doesn’t go far enough” by a 3:2 margin.

Follow Suzy Khimm on Twitter: @SuzyKhimm