Originally, the Democrats — with huge majorities in each House — set out to pass a health care reform bill. It only took them a year and after much huffing and puffing and pork, the House managed to pass a bill by 5 votes. The Senate passed a rather different bill (with different pork) by the bare 60-vote majority needed to get past a united Republican filibuster.
The usual way to proceed would be to send both versions to a Conference Committee. The Conference result goes back to each House for final passage. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they can’t do that because they lost the Massachusetts Senate seat (largely over this bill) and now they don’t have the 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.
After having said, in the wake of that defeat that they would not use reconciliation, they are now saying they WILL use reconciliation. Mainly because nothing else will work.
(“Reconciliation” for those that don’t know, or want to lie about it, is normally used for adjusting a previously passed budget in light of new information or needs. Like “Add $1 billion to unemployment insurance payouts” or “Move $1 billion from the F-22 program to Food Stamps.”)
There are well defined limits on what the reconciliation process allows, which has limited abuse. Among other things, it can only change spending and taxes, and it has to amend a previously enacted law.
Anyway, they are going to try to pass ALL the health care changes they want (and no doubt a goodly portion of new pork) through the reconciliation process. This would normally go like this:
1. The House passes the Senate bill without change and the enrolled bill goes to the President.
2. Presumably the President signs it, enacting it into law.
3. The House then passes a Reconciliation bill, adjusting amounts, taxes, and financial requirements for qualifying for same.
4. The Senate then votes on the bill with debate already limited to 20 hours by rule — no filibuster possible.
5. Presumably that also passes and is sent to the President.
6. Presumably the President signs it, enacting it into law.
Unfortunately, this will also not work, failing at point #1. So what Pelosi wants to do is combine Steps 1,2 & 3 into one vote, and condition the result on Step 4 happening, too. If the Senate does not agree to the reconciliation package, the Senate bill isn’t deemed to have passed.
Now, you may say “But how can they include the Presidential signature step in their machinery?” Indeed you might, and others have. Some even consider this a bit, well, unconstitutional, if you know what I mean. Something about a bill needing to be signed by the President before it is law. Another something about separation of powers.
You might also ask “How can the House condition their vote on the actions of the Senate?” And here, too, there is no good answer other than “they probably can’t.” There are two Houses of Congress and they are to do things independently. This is called bicameralism, and the Supreme Court has insisted on it in the past. Also, a bill is to pass both House identically (although typos are not invalidating). The Supreme Court has insisted on this, too. The Senate and House can make up their own Rules, but they cannot make up their own Constitution.
Note how far we have come from the normal process. Note how certain this is to end up in the Supreme Court’s lap, dragging the Court even further into the political arena. Note how unremarkable past “Nuclear Options” seem in comparison. Proving once again that no one’s Life, Liberty or Property is safe while Congress is in session.
All so that the President does not lose face and he can say to the American People that “We won.” Worked so well last time.