Momentum grows among Dems for using rules to avoid filibuster

Momentum among Democrats is growing to use special budget rules to push major healthcare reform this year through the Senate with a simple majority.

Two possible members of a House-Senate conference committee, which is likely to have the final say on the rules’ use, on Tuesday refused to rule out the use of reconciliation instructions that would include an overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system in a final budget resolution.

Separately, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department told a Senate panel that using the rules remain on the table.

Using the rules could allow Democrats to enact one of their long-sought goals without the support of any Republicans. That’s because the budget resolution needs only 51 votes to pass in the Senate, not the 60 votes needed to move ahead most controversial legislation.

“I think everything’s on the table,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayConservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Support the budget resolution to ensure a critical investment in child care Senate Democrats try to defuse GOP budget drama MORE (D-Wash.), a Senate Budget panel member and conferee on last year’s budget resolution, when asked about the use of the rules. “I really think that is an answer we don’t know yet.”

Murray said she hasn’t decided whether she would back a budget that included reconciliation instructions.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWant a clean energy future? Look to the tax code Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda Lawmakers lay out arguments for boosting clean energy through infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.), another panel member and 2008 conferee, signaled that he’d like to avoid using the rules, but wouldn’t say whether he’d vote against it in conference.

“I want to make reconciliation for healthcare irrelevant,” said Wyden, who hopes to find a bipartisan compromise on healthcare reform that would not add to the deficit during its first two years. “I think we’re on a path to do it.”

House leaders also continued to talk up the use of reconciliation rules on healthcare that they wrote into their own budget, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) describing it as “a fallback position, certainly on healthcare.” He noted that House Democrats did not include reconciliation instructions for a plan that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow businesses to trade credits to meet their emission targets.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has said that he would argue against the use of reconciliation during the conference, but has acknowledged that he may not be able to keep it out of the final budget.

Democratic senators don’t plan to include reconciliation instructions in the budget plan that’s moving through the upper chamber this week. Senators expect the fate of reconciliation instructions — which call on lawmakers to “reconcile” policy goals with spending bills — to come down to the 10 members of a Senate-House conference.

{mospagebreak}The White House hasn’t ruled out pushing for healthcare reform through the expedited reconciliation process.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen SebeliusKathleen Sebelius65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Fauci: 'Horrifying' to hear CPAC crowd cheering anti-vaccination remarks The Memo: Biden and Democrats face dilemma on vaccine mandates MORE (D), Obama’s nominee to be Health and Human Services secretary, said Tuesday that the administration isn’t ready to tie its own hands.

“At least in the preliminary discussions that I’ve had with members of Congress, there is an interest in not taking any tools off the table prematurely,” Sebelius said when asked about reconciliation during a Senate hearing on her nomination.

A House leadership aide said that reconciliation for healthcare is a goal of both the Democratic leadership as well as the White House, and will remain so until either congressional Democrats or the administration get a sense that Republicans are interested in getting on board with their overall approach to healthcare.

Democrats in the House want to avoid a repeat of the economic stimulus bill debate, which a number of Democrats complained was “held hostage” by the three Republican senators Reid needed to attract to win the 60 votes necessary to clear the bill through the Senate.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), the vice chairwoman of the House Budget Committee and a possible conferee, said she would fight for reconciliation instructions that would call on committees to fund healthcare reform by September.

“We want to work with Republicans to get that done, but come the end of September, if we can’t, we know that this country, American families and our American businesses ... need us to tackle this,” she told The Hill.

Even House Democrats constantly eyeing whether an eventual healthcare bill will add to the deficit were comfortable with the hard-nosed strategy.

Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindWisconsin governor seeks to intervene in redistricting case Retail group backs minimum corporate tax, increased IRS enforcement LIVE COVERAGE: House panel launches work on .5T spending package MORE (D-Wis.), who didn’t specify his own opinion on using reconciliation for healthcare, said it made sense to at least have it on the table.

“It’s silly to unilaterally disarm ourselves at this point,” Kind said. “I still want to see us work in a bipartisan way on healthcare. That should be our goal.”

GOP critics of the reconciliation process have said that it was never intended to ram through major legislation.