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Reid Refuses to Rule Out Using Fast-Track Budget Rules

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday refused to rule out the eventual use of fast-track budget rules for President Barack Obama’s highest profile policy proposals, even as he defended his own Budget Committee chairman’s decision to exclude such rules from the Senate’s initial spending blueprint.

Asked whether he would reject any House-Senate budget conference that included fast-track rules known as reconciliation, Reid said, “Let’s see what happens in the next three weeks, in the next month.—

Despite significant Democratic opposition to using reconciliation rules to block filibusters of health care reform and climate change legislation, a senior Senate Democratic aide said Reid is keeping the option open in order to force Republicans to the negotiating table on both issues.

Reid hinted at that and indicated that Democrats, such as Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who are pursuing bipartisan compromises on health care have just a few weeks to show significant accomplishments before the Majority Leader might acquiesce to House Democrats’ demands that the Senate accept fast-track budget rules. Under reconciliation, just 51 votes, rather than 60, are required for passage.

“We’re not going to do reconciliation in our budget,— said Reid of the plan the Senate is expected to take up next week. “We believe very strongly that Sen. Baucus should have an opportunity to see what he can do on a bipartisan basis. We’re going to work … to see what we’re going to do on a conference report. But I think we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. This budget we’re talking about does not have reconciliation.—

In fact, the Senate’s budget plan, which is being considered today in committee, does not currently include reconciliation language that would forbid filibusters of health care and global warming bills that are expected to come up later this year.

But Reid vowed that no matter how the bicameral budget agreement is crafted in the end, “We need to do health care, and we are going to do health care. I am hopeful that the project that Senator Baucus is engaged in, that is to do a bipartisan health care bill, will bear fruit. I think it can be done, but we are going to do health care. I think that says it all.—

Reid praised Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who has been one of the most vocal Democratic critics of Obama’s budget, for resisting reconciliation and using his budget proposal to require that costly policy proposals, like health care reform, be paid for with offsets elsewhere.

“One of the things in our budget that’s very clear is, we pay for everything,— said Reid. “I think it’s been good for the country to listen to what Sen. Conrad has to say.—

Meanwhile, Reid reiterated his threat to bring up a stalled measure intended to recover the $165 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses that were recently handed out at insurance giant American International Group. However, Reid said he was content to wait until after the Easter recess, which begins on April 3 and ends April 20, before trying again to move legislation to punitively tax bonus recipients and other Wall Street bailout beneficiaries. The House has already passed its version of the bonus tax measure.

“If there were ever a reason that we look forward to regulation reform, this is it,— said Reid. “You can’t let anything like this happen in the future. As to what we’re going to do with AIG compensation, we’re not through with that yet. … We don’t have the ability to bring it up on the floor again next week anyway, so we’ll see what the timeout brings us. … If this is an issue that we still need to proceed on when we come back, then we’ll do it.—

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