By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 12/8/2009 11:45:11 AM ET 2009-12-08T16:45:11

Claim: Democratic leaders can use a Senate short cut to pass the insurance overhaul with 51 votes.

One reader wonders: Why is there the need for all the wrangling in the Senate over a filibuster, which opponents of the insurance overhaul bill could use to block a final vote on it? Couldn’t Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid use a budget procedure known as "reconciliation" which requires only 51 votes, instead of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster? Some supporters of the public option are urging Reid to use the reconciliation process to pass the bill, sidestepping senators such as Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who have objections to the legislation. "Get them in line, or use reconciliation to pass a public option with a majority vote," urged left-leaning activist Jane Hamsher, who publishes the blog firedoglake and heads a political action committee.

Fact or fiction?
Fiction. While it is true that reconciliation only requires 51 votes, it's a strategy that can only be used for budget-related measures, not for substantive policy measures unrelated to the budget. That's due to a Senate rule, written by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., which says any non-budget provision can be stricken from a reconciliation bill; 60 votes would be needed to overcome the Byrd rule. If senators use reconciliation, it could have the unintended result of policy changes such as insurance industry reforms being cut out of the bill. The Senate parliamentarian has warned that if Democrats try to use reconciliation to pass substantive health reform, "you'll end up with Swiss cheese," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad. That may explain why Reid said a few weeks ago: "I'm not using reconciliation" to pass his reform bill.

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