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House Panel Pushes Forward With Health Care Maneuver

Obama in Ohio

Mar. 15: President Obama is introduced by Connie Anderson, sister of cancer patient Natoma Canfield, who wrote the president saying she could no longer afford her health insurance premiums.AP

The House Budget Committee Monday initiated the process that will allow the Senate to consider health care reform under special rules which ban Senate filibusters and require a simple majority to approve the measure.

The budget panel approved the reconciliation resolution 21 to 16. Two Democrats, Reps. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., and Chet Edwards, D-Texas, voted against the resolution. Both voted against the health care bill in the full House last fall.

"We're taking the first step in the long arduous process toward health care reform," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C.

A "reconciliation" resolution handles tax and budget matters essential to the health care reform package. Reconciliation is a special parliamentary maneuver available to the House and Senate.

It's typically used in the annual budget cycle. At its most basic level, reconciliation harmonizes tax policy and federal expenditures.

Senate Democrats want to use reconciliation to pass health care reform because special reconciliation rules curb debate time. The vote came before a price tag for the bill was offered by the Congressional Budget Office.

Even though the Senate wants to use reconciliation to pass health care, the process must start in the House. Article One, Section 7 of the Constitution mandates that "all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives."

Revenue raising bills are tax bills. And those tax provisions are essential to paying for the health care package. 

To jump start the Senate reconciliation process, the first stop is the House.

The top Republican on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., scolded Democrats for running the reconciliation gambit.

"Today we begin what might be the final chapter in this health care debacle," said Ryan. "This is in fact, an extraordinary and unprecedented abuse of the budget reconciliation process."

Ryan added that "never before has the House committee process been so grossly exploited."

In fact, Ryan noted that Senate Democrats were forced to use reconciliation because they no longer wielded a 60-vote supermajority necessary to thwart GOP filibusters.

"The real reason we are here is Scott Brown," said Ryan, a reference to the Republican senator from Massachusetts who won in an upset special election in January. "You can't pass health care the regular way. So now you pass it the Washington way.

The next stop for the health care plan is the House Rules Committee. The Rules panel is the final weigh station for the health care bill before it hits the House floor. The Rules Committee will take the resolution approved by the Budget Committee and write the final version of the legislation.

The Rules Committee hopes to put the bill on the floor later this week. If the House approves the package, the Senate could take up the reconciliation resolution in the next two weeks.