First, a bit of background: Awhile ago, we talked about the three types of reconciliation possible on health care. The first type was a simple reconciliation process. The second type was a timed process where reconciliation would begin if the Congress didn't pass a bill by "X" date. And the third type was a threat to pass another budget at a later date that would include reconciliation.
The timed process always seemed the most likely. And Jon Cohn reports today that a deal has been struck: The budget will include reconciliation instructions pegged to October 15th. That's the date by which Congress has to pass bipartisan health care reform. If they fail, then the relevant committees have to write reconciliation legislation that faces a simple up-or-down vote in the Senate. No filibuster allowed. And with 59 Democrats, no Republicans needed.
It's hard to overstate the importance of this decision. This could be the day that health care reform went from being unlikely to inevitable. Without reconciliation, the incentives for the minority are very simple: Kill the bill. Do as Gingrich did in 1994 and hand the majority a failure. With reconciliation, killing the bill just means you're locked out of the final legislation. It's a death sentence for your involvement in the process. It is not, however, the end of the process itself.
Primary credit for this goes to Obama. Everything I've heard suggested that this was an executive branch priority. Without steady pressure from the president, reconciliation would likely have been traded away long ago. In that, it might be considered surprising. This was not an obvious outcome. Obama was the bipartisan idealist. He was "a new way for Washington." He was the guy you couldn't trust to fight. He just didn't understand partisanship.
Washington has a way of changing that real fast, however. Back during the stimulus debate, I argued that Republicans showed their hand too early. By totally withholding support for the president's first, and least partisan, priority, they showed their involvement couldn't be assumed on any future piece of legislation. And so it wasn't. Ryan Grim reports that in a meeting with House Republicans this week, "President Obama reminded the minority that the last time he reached out to them, they reacted with zero votes -- twice -- for his stimulus package. And then he reminded them again. And again. And again." They had shown their hand. And Obama had reconciled himself to it.