A guide to terms used in the health care debate:
THE SHORTCUT: President Barack Obama wants Congress to use the so-called reconciliation process, which would let lawmakers push a companion health care bill of fixes through the Senate with a simple majority. Republicans _ who hold 41 of the Senate’s 100 seats _ have been using filibuster rules to force Democrats to garner 60 votes.
THE HANGUP: A reconciliation bill is supposed to be limited to provisions that directly affect taxes and spending. That means it may be hard for Democrats to include provisions they covet such as curbing insurance industry practices, defining how exchanges for purchasing health coverage would operate and restricting the use of federal health subsidies for abortions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said the abortion dispute cannot be resolved in the companion bill Democrats plan to use to settle the main differences between the House and Senate.
THE HISTORY: Republicans complain that reconciliation was never meant for enacting sweeping new programs. But of the 22 reconciliation bills Congress has sent a president since the process was first used in 1980, 16 were approved by a GOP-controlled Senate, including for President George W. Bush’s major tax cuts enacted in 2001, 2003 and 2006.
THE PRESIDENT: “Reform has already passed the House with a majority. It has already passed the Senate with a supermajority of 60 votes. And now it deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, that was cast on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that was _ that was used for COBRA health coverage for the unemployed and, by the way, for both Bush tax cuts _ all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority. I therefore ask leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule the vote in the next few weeks.”
SIMPLE MAJORITY: Simply put _ it is the majority of all senators present and voting under reconciliation. A bill can pass with 51 votes if all 100 senators are in attendance. Likewise, it can pass with a 45-43 vote if 12 members are away. In case of a tie vote, Vice President Joe Biden _ in his role as president of the Senate _ can break the deadlock.
NUCLEAR OPTION: Some have used the term to describe reconciliation, but they are incorrect. The “nuclear option” is basically a strategy to change filibuster procedures that have been in the chamber’s rules for decades. To do so would also require an assist from Biden. He could declare that the Senate is not a “continuing body,” and therefore, it must adopt all its rules from scratch. Then the majority, with a simple majority vote, would adopt rules that don’t allow for filibusters, which currently take 60 votes to stop.
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