Yesterday, during a speech at the White House, President Obama called on Congress to give health care reform an up or down vote before the Easter congressional recess -beginning March 29th. The message seemed to make clear that the President, along with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, intend to pursue passage of health insurance reform through the budget reconciliation process. The process forward would have the House pass the Senate’s version of health reform without changes, sending the legislation to the President for signature. Changes to the Senate’s bill would be done through a separate piece of legislation advanced through the budget reconciliation process, avoiding a filibuster, as only a simple majority vote is required.
House and Senate Democratic leaders are working to finalize a reconciliation bill as early as this week. The reconciliation bill would then need to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). As the reconciliation bill is scored by CBO, Democratic leaders will be working with members of their own caucus to gain consensus on a variety of health care issues and working with the Senate Parliamentarian to figure out which provisions can be included in the reconciliation bill since Senate rules prohibit “extraneous matters” from consideration. The reconciliation bill is seen as key to coaxing some House Democrats to vote in favor of the Senate’s bill, which is opposed by some liberal and conservative Democrats.
Since the Congress can only do one reconciliation bill for fiscal year 2010, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) would have to advance along with healthcare, be passed through the normal legislative process, or be deferred until a future date. At present, the votes do not exist in the Senate to advance SAFRA through the normal legislative process. As a result, if it is to happen this year, the reconciliation process is the only possible vehicle. The Senate has yet to reveal its own version of SAFRA. However, the legislation is likely to emerge in the next few weeks, and move rapidly in order to meet the Easter deadline set by the President.
Pell grant recipients interested in providing a testimonial to the Senate on the program’s impact are invited to contact Jonathan Nurse (firstname.lastname@example.org).