Conrad: Healthcare just too pricey now to make it

The healthcare bills before the House and Senate will have to cost "significantly less" than what has been proposed if they are to pass through Congress, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) asserted Sunday.

The $1 trillion price tags placed on bills passed by House committees and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee are probably too much, Conrad signaled during an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation."

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"It's going to have to be significantly less than what we've heard talked about," Conrad said of the conditions for a final bill to make it out of Congress.

Conrad has been part of the so-called "group of six" senators from both parties who've been working on crafting bipartisan health reform legislation on the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Finance Committee, argued that the other bills in the Senate and House were only likely to drive up the deficit in the long run.

"The Dodd bill in the Senate and the Pelosi bill in the [House] drives the deficit up," Grassley said.

Both senators also talked down the prospects of using budget reconciliation to bypass Senate rules on a filibuster, and pass healthcare reform with a simple majority, instead of the usual 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.

"It's an option, it's available. But as I've argued for many months, it does not work very well," Conrad said, worrying that using budget rules to pass the bill would result in incomplete legislation.

Grassley cast aspersions toward reconciliation as only increasing partisan rancor on the issue.

"If you have reconciliation, it's a partisan approach," he said. "This is such an important issue... It ought to be done on a broad, bipartisan basis."

Conrad also rejected the idea of splitting up the healthcare bill into smaller portions, an idea floated by some Republicans in order to allow the Congress to pass some less controversial aspects of the bill, while taking more time to hash out details on controversial aspects.

"I think it's very unlikely for that to work," Conrad said. "When you look at the legislative agenda, it's very difficult to see how you put two packages through and coordinate them well."