I haven't posted about this, but I guess I should...I've said throughout that the "patch" part of pass-then-patch isn't going to be difficult at all, because the bill everyone is expecting is full of easy provisions to vote for -- as I keep saying, all ice cream, no spinach.
Well, that changes if liberals insist on adding student loan reform to the reconciliation bill, as it seems they want to do. As Steve Benen says, that could lose the votes of several Democratic Senators, and presumably would allow Republicans who oppose the bill to have a solid argument for doing so (if, that is, the main health care bill has already passed, so they cannot logically argue that they are prevent health care reform by opposing the repeal of the Nelson deal and other popular provisions).
On the one hand, looked at just as a stand-alone bill, the Democrats should have plenty of excess votes to give up on the reconciliation bill -- I've been saying that I'd bet on them getting over 58 votes. And I can see the argument that student loan reform should be a very popular reform.
But given how skittish Members of the House are about the Senate, I think this is on balance a very bad idea. Do I think it would sink the reconciliation patch? No, probably not. But there's a lot of weight on that "probably." Marginal Members of the House don't want to hear that the Senate is probably going to approve reconciliation; they want as close to a sure thing as possible.
Granted, the people who are doing this are in a better position to know where the votes lie than I am, but it sure seems like an unnecessary risk to me. Student loan reform, if it doesn't go onto the patch, can still be added to an FY 2011 reconciliation bill (yes, we probably will have another reconciliation bill later this year), or to some other must-pass legislation. I can't see that the advantage of getting student loan reform done now can be worth even adding a very small amount of risk to health care reform.