Senate GOP: Dems lack votes to use partisan tactic on health reform

Senate GOP: Dems lack votes to use partisan tactic on health reform

Senate Republicans are claiming Democrats lack the votes to pass healthcare reform through reconciliation rules, but their math appears a bit fuzzy.

Senate Republicans on Friday distributed a press release titled “18 Democrats Oppose Health Care Reconciliation” with a breakdown of each senator’s statements on the issue.

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Eighteen defections is a significantly higher number than many observers believe is accurate. Healthcare experts say the number is likely closer between 8 and 12.

A Democratic leadership aide said no one knows the real answer because Democrats haven’t whipped the vote count. Democrats are holding off on strategic decisions on how to get health reform passed until after President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy: Trump EPA finalizes rule to kill Obama climate plan | Trump officials delayed releasing docs on Yellowstone superintendent's firing | Democrats probe oil companies' role in fuel rule rollback Overnight Energy: Trump EPA finalizes rule to kill Obama climate plan | Trump officials delayed releasing docs on Yellowstone superintendent's firing | Democrats probe oil companies' role in fuel rule rollback House Democrats investigate oil companies' involvement in fuel standards rollback MORE’s health summit at the White House on Thursday.

In the reconciliation release issued by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate to vote Thursday to block Trump's Saudi arms deal MORE’s (Ky.) office, several Democrats were quoted from as far back as last March, and others were quoted before Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) stunning win in Massachusetts in January.

Stripped of their filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes by Brown’s triumph, Democratic leaders are considering the partisan budget tactic because it would only require them to amass a simple majority of 50 votes for passage, with Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Ted Kennedy in defending remarks about working with segregationists Biden invokes Ted Kennedy in defending remarks about working with segregationists Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' MORE casting the deciding vote.

Assuming all Republicans reject reconciliation, 10 Democratic defections would kill the healthcare bill.

A senior Senate GOP aide acknowledged the release used dated quotes, but said the purpose was to expose hypocrisy.

“The point was not that this release would be a marker for where they are now. We absolutely believe that they’ll flip-flop,” the aide said. “The point is that they have said clearly and unambiguously that they opposed this at one point, so they will have done a full 180… They oppose it on principle up to the point where they don’t have the votes, and then that principle fades away.”

The Hill contacted all 18 Democrats listed on the GOP press release, asking if they were opposed to using reconciliation under any circumstances.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Key endorsements: A who's who in early states Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview MORE (D-Nev.), whose first choice was to avoid reconciliation, is not ruling it out.

Reid considers “all options on the table,” according to spokeswoman Regan LaChapelle on Friday. Reid was quoted in the Senate GOP release from last November, before he jettisoned a public option component as part of a larger healthcare bill.

Reid’s office on Friday told The Plum Line at whorunsgov.com that “if a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance healthcare, Sen. Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes.”

McConnell said in a released statement, “Using reconciliation would be an acknowledgment that there is bipartisan opposition to their bill, another in a series of backroom deals, and the clearest signal yet that they've decided to completely ignore the American people.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the senators named in the GOP release Friday, signed a recent letter to Reid, urging him to use reconciliation to pass the bill with a public option included.

Democrat Evan Bayh (Ind.), who as recently as January had said using reconciliation was “ill-advised,” on Thursday told National Public Radio “it may be that that has to be ultimately resorted to because something to improve healthcare is better than nothing.”

At the same time, Bayh, who announced on Monday he won’t run for re-election in November, noted it would carry “very real consequences.”

“For starters, that would really poison the well for any sort of bipartisan progress at least for the foreseeable future,” Bayh said. “The minority would react very vehemently to that. But, you know, that might be something you ultimately have to do.”

A staffer for Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world MORE (D-Mo.) struck a similar position as many wavering Democrats, saying her vote would depend on the legislation but that she is not unilaterally opposed to using reconciliation.

"She has openly said that she would not make any final decision on reconciliation or anything else until she knows what the package is they're voting on,” said the McCaskill aide.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who consistently urged against using reconciliation during 2009, told The Hill he hasn’t closed the door on using reconciliation rules to finish the bill.

On Friday, Conrad’s office said the senator’s mindset hasn’t changed, and that the question of his vote is premature because the final healthcare package is still being crafted.

Similarly, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who told an Omaha newspaper in September that he was against using reconciliation, told Nebraska reporters something different in late January.

“I want to make it clear: If I support a bill, then I will vote for it regardless of whether it takes 50 votes to pass or 60 votes to pass,” Nelson said. “My position doesn't change just because the House or Senate decides to change the process."

In a May 7, 2009, speech, Nelson said, “In my view, meaningful healthcare reforms are within reach and should be achieved in a bipartisan fashion without stifling minority views or using reconciliation.”

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (D-La.), who was quoted in the GOP release from 2009 and was one of the last Democrats to sign onto the bill in late December, also sounded open-minded on Friday.


“Sen. Landrieu has expressed concerns about using reconciliation to pass healthcare reform, but has not said that she would oppose reconciliation ‘under any circumstances,’” spokesman Aaron Saunders said.

Similarly, Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world Dem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough MORE (D-Alaska) is among those who refuse to rule out the option. “Up to this point, the senator has not stated a position on any proposals,” said deputy press secretary Max Croes.

Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.), who called reconciliation a “non-starter” in November, was even more blunt on Friday when asked if he would absolutely oppose the technique now. Rockefeller simply told The Hill, “No.”

And Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.), who spent several long weeks attempting to craft a bipartisan bill last fall, was more emphatic, quoted on ModernHealthCare.Com in Jan. 27 that reconciliation was “the only way.” Throughout 2009, Baucus stressed that the best way to pass healthcare reform was on a bipartisan basis.

Among other senators singled out in the GOP release Friday, Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) told a Pennsylvania forum on Feb. 1 that he is urging Democrats to use reconciliation, while Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.) told an Arkansas newspaper on Jan. 27 he’s open to it. An Iowa paper, meanwhile, quoted a Democratic state senator who said Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Key endorsements: A who's who in early states Stop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave MORE (D-Iowa) advocated reconciliation in a recent closed-door meeting.

Democrats quoted in the GOP release who were unreachable Friday included Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

In 2009 and in years prior, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) lambasted the use of reconciliation to pass bills, such as healthcare reform, that are not primarily deficit reduction bills.

In a statement Friday, Feingold said, "While I have not made a final decision, I have not ruled out the possibility of using the reconciliation process to advance healthcare reform. I want to see and read the bill first."

Bayh, Byrd, Nelson and Specter voted against the 2009 budget resolution that gave Senate leaders the option of using reconciliation to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system.