Dems threaten to use 51-vote tactic for health bill if they lose in Mass.

Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said using budget reconciliation is "an option" to pass a healthcare bill.

"Even before Massachusetts and that race was on the radar screen, we prepared for the process of using reconciliation," Van Hollen said during an appearance on Bloomberg television over the weekend.

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Budget reconciliation is a procedural rule allowing a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes usually needed to end debate on any given piece of legislation.

The remark comes before a closer-than-expected Senate race in Massachusetts, where voters head to the polls Tuesday to permanently fill the seat left vacant by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D).

Republican candidate Scott Brown has been waging a potential upset bid against Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley, in part due to his pledge to be the additional vote to be able to sustain a GOP filibuster against Democrats' health bill.



Van Hollen dismissed the specter of a Brown upset, reviving the idea of using budget reconciliation to pass the health bill.


Getting health-care reform passed is important,” he said. “Reconciliation is an option.” 

Senate Democrats had previously ruled out using reconciliation, reasoning that the maneuver was politically and procedurally risky. The tactic, for instance, leaves it up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether elements of the bill under consideration are relevant to the budget process, risking reforms seen as critical to Democrats' reform efforts.


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