It's been in the works for a while and now, according to senior Captiol Hill staffers, it's a done deal: The final budget resolution will include a "reconciliation instruction" for health care. That means the Democrats can pass health care reform with just fifty votes, instead of the sixty it takes to break a filibuster.
The deal was hatched late afternoon and last night, in a five-hour negotiating session at the office of Senate Majoriy Leader Harry Reid. A trio of White House officials were there: Rahm Emanuel, Peter Orszag, and Phil Schiliro. Also present, along with Reid, were House Budget Chairman John Spratt and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad.
The reonciliation instruction specifies a date. That date, according to one congressional staffer, is October 15. (The original House reconciliation instruction had a late September deadline.)
In other words, the House and Senate each have until that day to pass health care legislation.
If they haven't, then both houses will consider health care under the reconciliation process, which is relevant primarily for the way it affects the Senate. There will be a limit on the time of debate. Republicans won't be able to filibuster it.
So there's still a chance for bipartisanship, which is what both Obama and Democratic leaders want--or, at least, what they say they want. But if bipartisanship doesn't work, then Dems can pass this on their own. They won't even need Ben Nelson.
In the past few weeks, Conrad and more recently Representative Allen Boyd had been protesting the inclusion of reconciliation instructions. And Conrad, as chair of the budget committee, was in a particularly influential position.
What changed their minds? More on that to come...
Update: Obama has apparently endorsed making paygo rules--the requirement to offset all new spending either with additional cuts or revenue--into law. I gather this was the condition Conrad, and perhaps Boyd, demanded, although nobody has confirmed that as of yet.
The significance of this isn't clear to me just now; I thought Obama had endorsed paygo already. But, for a primer on the issue, here is a report from OMB Watch and here's some testimony that Orszag gave while he was running the Congressional Budget Office.