Friday, March 12, 2010

A Little Spinach?

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.


  1. I get the impression from the news reports that the House is pushing for this... the leadership thinks that they can get a few more votes by passing the student loan bill as a sweetener. There's also some talk that the reconciliation fix on health care ended up a little over budget, and adding the loan package would make it work again.

  2. Anon,

    You could be I said, the leadership has a better vote count than I do -- but of course it's also possible that Members who want this to be included are floating it without actually knowing that it adds (net) votes. I hadn't seen reports about scoring, but that could make sense, too (as you imply, student loan reform scores really well as a deficit reducer). Interesting.

  3. Anon again. This is from Politico, which occasionally contains useful information. The parliamentarian was giving the Senators trouble, but his point is rather subtle: According to reconciliation rules, amendments coming out of each relevant committee must produce at least 1 billion per year in savings to pass through reconciliation. There's two committees involved in the reconciliation fix: Finance and Health. Finance is fine, but the amendments from the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee don't reduce the deficit by enough if at all.

    They realized they could plug the student loan bill into the Education and Health committees amendments and get the deficit numbers right.

    I even read a quote from a Dem Rep. (can't remember where) that the parliamentarian had suggested adding the student loan bill as a solution(!). Fortunately reconciliation language was written into last Spring's budget for both HCR and student loans, but not for cap and trade. They should have gone for the hat trick!

  4. Should have mentioned: I'm guessing the reason it had to be deficit reducing is to prevent the Education and Health committee amendments from sunsetting after 5 years like the Bush Tax cuts, not that it couldn't be passed.


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