What’s Next? The Timeline For Health Care Reform

Late last night, the House Budget Committee caused a great deal of excitement when it posted the ‘‘Reconciliation Act of 2010’’ on its website. Reporters and bloggers assumed that the bill was the very package of changes Democrats had sent to the Congressional Budget Office and were surprised to find a public health insurance option, a national exchange and an earlier implementation date among the bill’s 2,309 pages. But in an indication of how complicated and arcane the Congressional process can be — even for veteran journalists — reporters quickly retracted their stories.

Upon closer inspection, the ‘‘Reconciliation Act of 2010’’ turned out to be just the old House health care bill with the student loan bill attached. As The American Spectator’s Phillip Klein first explained, the Budget Committee was using the old legislation as a vehicle to begin the reconciliation process. “Well, under the reconciliation rules in last year’s budget, any reconciliation bill would have to have been submitted to the Budget Committee by October 15, 2009. It just so happens that earlier versions of health care legislation cleared the Ways and Means and Education and Labor Committees last year. So Democrats just dusted that legislation off, and are using that as the vehicle to begin the reconciliation process.”

This afternoon, the House Budget Committee will begin marking-up the health care reconciliation package, signaling the beginning of the end of the Democrats’ year-long effort to pass comprehensive health care reform. Congressional leaders have urged members to clear their schedules for the weekend in anticipation of final up or down vote in the House, which could happen as early as Thursday. Under the Democrats’ plan, the House would pass the Senate version of the legislation, then take up a narrow package of fixes through the reconciliation process. If the House approves the changes later this week, they would go to the Senate, which would have to muster only 51 votes instead of 60.

To avoid any further confusion, below is a timeline for the best possible scenario:


1) Starting at 3pm today: The Budget Committee will report the old House health care bill, which has to be available for 48 hours before it goes to the Rules Committee. This will be a shell for the reconciliation process. The CBO will release its score of the reconciliation package today or tomorrow.

2) Wednesday, March 17th: The Rules Committee will strip the old House shell bill and replace it with the new reconciliation language. The Committee has to finalize the amendments and write a rule that will determine, among other things, whether the House takes up reform as one measure or two. Chairman Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) could package it with the $875 billion measure the Senate passed on Christmas Eve. The package will also include Obama’s proposed overhaul of the student-loan system. At the Budget Committee markup, Democrats and Republicans will be allowed 10 motions each to instruct the Rules Committee, but the motions are nonbinding and will likely be used to score political points.

3) Thursday, March 18th or later: The bill will go to the floor as one measure or two separate bills. House will vote.

4) Senate will try to act before Easter: The Senate will do everything they can to get reform done before the Easter break, but given Republican efforts to delay the process, it’s likely that they’ll have to wait until after the break.