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No more delays on health care reform

The human toll of delaying health care reform is shocking. Every day we delay health care reform:

Yesterday, President Obama told Congress to continue their work:

Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.

But as we know, it’ll take more than just words to finish health reform and finish it right. It’s going to take leadership by the President and leaders in Congress.

There is growing consensus on the way forward. The Senate bill needs to be improved before reform is finished in many ways. The way to improve the Senate bill is with majority rule, otherwise known as reconciliation.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has a report on reconciliation, it’s history, and its process. Their conclusion is the same as ours:

…using the reconciliation process now for health care reform would not represent a dramatic break with the past. The sharp break with past practice occurred in 2001, when reconciliation was used for the first time to pass legislation that was not paid for and greatly worsened the nation’s fiscal position.

Prior to 2001, every major reconciliation bill enacted into law reduced the federal deficit. Until then, reconciliation had been reserved for legislation that met this standard of fiscal discipline. But the standard was tossed aside in 2001. In both 2001 and 2003, the reconciliation process was used to pass costly tax cuts that were not paid for and that have substantially increased deficits and debt.

In response, at the start of the new Congress in 2007, the House and Senate formally adopted rules to restore a fiscal discipline standard to the reconciliation process by barring the process from being used for bills that would increase deficits and debt. If the reconciliation process is used in coming weeks for health reform legislation, that legislation will need to adhere to this standard — rather than to continue the sharp departure from it that the 2001 and 2003 reconciliation bills made.

Because rising health care costs represent the single largest cause of the federal government’s long-term budget problems, fundamental health care reform must be part of any budget solution. The foregoing examples indicate that using the budget reconciliation process to enact health reform in 2010 would be consistent with the ways in which Congress has used reconciliation in the past. Many major policy changes, including welfare reform, large tax cuts, and new health programs, have been included in past reconciliation bills. Moreover, if health reform is pursued through the reconciliation process this year, the resulting legislation — unlike the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 — will need to be designed so it does not add to the deficit. Any legislation also is likely to include provisions, such as an independent Medicare Commission and demonstration projects to identify ways to deliver health care more efficiently, that could lead to further reforms that slow the growth of health-care costs and contribute to longer-term deficit reduction.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has predicted she could get the votes in the House to pass a health care bill if the Senate passes a reconciliation fix. Senators Reid, Baucus, and Conrad are open to the approach.

This is a way forward. The only question now is whether Congress will do it. Leadership is required to move both houses of Congress down this road together, the road to passing a real health care reform bill and passing it quickly.

The President asked Congress to finish reform. His call has been echoed, from Senator Al Franken to AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. The human cost of health care is too high to not finish reform and finish it right.

(also posted at the NOW! blog)

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Jason Rosenbaum

Jason Rosenbaum

Writer, musician, activist. Currently consulting for Bill Halter for U.S. Senate and a fellow at the New Organizing Institute.