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Daschle Fears Reconciliation May Be Necessary to Pass Reform

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is predicting that the Senate likely will use a contentious parliamentary technique to push through comprehensive health care reform legislation: reconciliation.

“Congress … is left with virtually no other prospect if we fail to reach the super-majority threshold to move to the second institutional framework, which is the budget reconciliation framework,— Daschle said Wednesday. “I’m hoping that it won’t be necessary because it presents a whole host of other issues.—

A top adviser to President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign spoke this morning at a health care panel hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a group the former Senate leader started two years ago with fellow former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Bob Dole (R-Kan.).

Wednesday’s panel also included Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America President Billy Tauzin, Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack and AARP lobbyist John Rother.

Daschle earlier this year returned to his job at the lobby shop Alston & Bird after withdrawing his nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services amid questions about his use of a chauffeured car and unpaid taxes. In 2008, he wrote a book about the legislative issue du jour, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.—

Daschle later expanded on his reconciliation predictions at Wednesday’s panel, saying, “It is possible that [Democrats] might reach that 60-vote threshold— to pass a health care bill. But to date, he said, Democrats have been unsuccessful in recruiting even the one necessary GOP vote to prevent an inevitable filibuster.

The recent death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) left Democrats one vote shy of the 60 needed to stop a GOP filibuster. Under reconciliation rules, only 51 votes are needed to proceed with budget matters. But the tactic carries significant political risks, as majority Republicans discovered during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“It could happen; it’s possible that it will happen,— Daschle said of the prospect of 60 votes. “But we’ve got a long way to go until we get there.—

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Roll Call that he prefers not to use strict reconciliation rules for health care legislation — although he did not rule it out.

Daschle on Wednesday also applauded Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), an old foe whose panel continues to mark up its $856 billion health care proposal. Despite longstanding friction between the two, Daschle said his former colleague “deserves credit— for working with Republicans on his bill, negotiations that went “above and beyond anyone’s expectations.—

“You can’t fault him for not trying,— Daschle said of Baucus. “He tried and tried everything he had — and we still don’t see a lot to show for it. He deserves credit for having made that effort.—

Daschle also predicted that the Finance panel’s consideration of 564 amendments means the committee will continue to mark up the bill “this week and a good part of next week.—

“The product before the Finance Committee today is about where Senate Democrats are,— he said.

Tauzin, a former House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, also warned Democrats of reconciliation’s perils. The ex-House Republican, who darted the Democratic Party following the 1994 GOP takeover, called reconciliation “not a great answer— to the standoff and warned that it could increase Senate partisanship.

“It probably leads to some pretty bad results in terms of future operations in the Senate,— Tauzin said.

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