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Conrad: No Progress on Final Budget Blueprint

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) confirmed Tuesday that reconciliation remains a sticking point with key lawmakers trying to broker a compromise on a fiscal 2010 budget resolution and that no progress was made on the matter over the spring recess.

House Democratic leaders, not to mention President Barack Obama, want to include reconciliation instructions in the final budget resolution, to be negotiated in the coming weeks by a House-Senate conference committee. Conrad wants reconciliation language out of the final spending blueprint, as do several of his fellow Senate Democrats. Passed before the Easter recess, the Senate budget resolution did not include reconciliation, while the House version did.

“I would say it’s a challenge; it’s a challenge,— Conrad told reporters, when asked if the reconciliation issue had become a major obstacle to a final budget resolution compromise. “I don’t think this was the purpose for which reconciliation was originally devised. There are many problems that it creates in trying to write substantive legislation. So I would much prefer that we not have reconciliation instruction in this resolution.—

The Obama administration, House Democratic leaders, and even Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) want reconciliation included in the final budget so as to have the parliamentary tool available to pass health care reform in the Senate without having to garner 60 votes. Reconciliation would protect health care reform from the filibuster and make it possible to approve the legislation with a simple majority.

Republicans have likened the inclusion of reconciliation in the budget to having a proverbial gun to their head, saying it would make it nearly impossible for them to negotiate on health care reform in good faith. If it is ultimately included in the blueprint, Conrad warned that there is no guarantee that reconciliation would only be used only for health care — or whatever other policy proposals it might be intended for.

Conrad declined to discuss the level of pressure he might be receiving — if any — on this issue from the Obama administration. Conrad described reconciliation as a “thorny issue— that could delay the negotiations on a final budget conference report.

“Reconciliation was never intended for this purpose, and it doesn’t work well,— Conrad said, saying that such an argument is part of his appeal to House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) and other House Democratic leaders. “It was never intended for this purpose, and I think there would be a lot of unintended consequences.—

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