Reid gives GOP direct warning on healthcare

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave Republicans his most direct warning to date that he is prepared to use a procedural maneuver to pass healthcare reform with a simple majority.

Reid told Republicans that he would prefer to pass healthcare reform under regular order but warned that he would not hesitate to use budget reconciliation if the legislation stalled in committee. The Senate Finance Committee began marking up a sprawling healthcare reform bill on Tuesday morning.

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“If we can’t work this out to do something within the committee structure, then we’ll be forced to do reconciliation,” said Reid, who said the tactic would be used as a “last resort.”

Reid then spelled out how healthcare would pass under budget reconciliation proceedings, giving his colleagues a clear picture of what they face if they fail to reach bipartisan agreement.

“On reconciliation, under the order, there’s only 20 hours of debate,” Reid explained. “There would be a free amendment process, which would take some time.

“We’ve done reconciliation on many, many different issues in recent years,” he said. “We’ve done it on a number of healthcare issues.”

Reid also reiterated his threat to cancel the weeklong Columbus Day recess scheduled to begin on Oct. 10, depending on the progress of healthcare reform.

“A lot depends on whether we’ll be able to keep that a whole week [of recess] when we get to the healthcare legislation. It is obvious [that if] we’re in the middle of healthcare, we can’t take a recess for a week.”

Reid also laid out the Senate schedule for the rest of the month. Lawmakers will take up an extension of highway funding authorization as well as a postal reform bill.

Reid hopes to finish the fiscal 2010 Interior appropriations bill this week and then move to the Defense appropriations bill “at the earliest possible date.”

He said Congress would also have to pass a continuing resolution funding government when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 “because we won’t be able to complete all of the appropriations bills prior to the end of the month.”

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