Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nelson Reconciles?

From Digby here. Interesting.

Maybe I'm just drunk on cranberry fumes, but at first blush it actually looks as if Ben Nelson is actually helping keep the public option alive, (although he may not know it):

Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, has offered up an interesting explanation for his vote to move forward with debate of major health care legislation: he stopped his fellow Democrats from playing parliamentary hardball that he said would have led to a fast-tracked bill and “sidelined” centrists like himself.

In an op-ed in The Omaha World-Herald newspaper, Mr. Nelson suggested that had he not agreed to start formal debate on the health care bill, Senate Democratic leaders would have employed a tactic known as reconciliation to pass the legislation with a simple majority of 51 votes.

To bring the bill to the floor for formal debate, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, needed the votes of all 60 members of his caucus, 58 Democrats and two independents, including Mr. Nelson. Republicans voted unanimously against starting debate.

“This past Saturday evening, I voted for the Senate to proceed to a full and open debate on health care reform with two goals in mind,” Mr. Nelson wrote in the Omaha paper. “The first goal is that the Senate, now able to follow normal parliamentary procedures, will produce a bipartisan bill cutting the cost of health care for Nebraskans and all Americans. The second goal is that by following normal procedures — allowing much debate, many amendments and even an opportunity to consider a complete alternative to the new bill offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — we have avoided for now bringing up health care legislation by using the tactic known as budget reconciliation.”

Mr. Nelson said the road ahead would not be easy. “There are partisans on both sides who will try to undermine efforts toward the first goal,” he wrote. “However, if we don’t let the normal procedures prevail, it is likely reconciliation will prevail.”

Mr. Reid has suggested that reconciliation is off the table. But Mr. Nelson said that would not hold firm if the Senate deadlocks over procedural issues. “It will be right back on the table if we allow the normal Senate parliamentary procedures to break down,” he wrote.

He also noted that Republicans who have warned against the use of budget reconciliation to pass health care legislation had themselves used the reconciliation process to pass big bills when they were in the majority. “Some who discount the possibility of reconciliation have used it to avoid a filibuster in the past,” Mr. Nelson wrote. “They were against filibusters before they were for them.”

I realize this is all self-serving bipartisan tripe for the hometown crowd, but still, by saying that reconciliation isn't off the table he's keeping his most despised piece of the legislation viable. The public option has long been thought to be the piece most likely to be broken off for a reconciliation vote. He's saying that Reid hasn't made any real committment to keeping it off the table which means Reid's still got the threat in hand, which I kind of doubted after last Saturday. (Indeed, I assumed he'd committed to taking it off the table in order to get Nelson on board for the first vote.) It looks like Nelson didn't extract that promise after all and he's using the threat himself as an excuse not to filibuster. It ain't much, but it's something.

For more on reconciliation, and what it means, Kagro X has a nice explanation of it today at Congress Matters.

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