Word that Speaker Pelosi has reneged on a deal with Blue Dogs and now intends to make a full court press for a Public Option in the House version of health reform offers further evidence that Democrats are leaning toward using reconciliation to pass health reform - a parliamentary trick and clear violation of Senate rules.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned Democrats that they will "suffer a severe backlash if they used the procedural tactic, which would allow them to pass reform legislation with a bare 51 votes... If you thought the American people were upset in August, you haven’t seen how upset they will be if this device is chosen."
McConnell is right, the voter backlash would be severe. Looking at the 2010 landscape and projections from Stuart Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, and Larry Sabato keep upping the ante for Republican gains in the House - using reconciliation would likely result in a GOP takeover of the House. Most have argued that Senate is out of reach as Democrats enjoy a 10 seat advantage, but look at the 2010 races and you see many Democrats are suddenly in trouble. Majority Leader Harry Reid trails everyone, Chris Dodd is in the fight of his life, the Rod Blagojevich scandal coupled with the Roland Burris scandal puts Illinois in play, Arlen Specter's party switch actually boosts GOP chances in Pennsylvania, Colorado and New York may well be in play as well as the Governors in each state appointed unknown entities to replace Democrats who joined the Obama administration. Throw Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln into that mix and that's seven seats. If 2010 is a repeat of the 1994 wave election then Republicans could run the board -but the don't have to - they need only reduce the Democrat's advantage to 55 seats to effectively stifle the majority and force compromise and a place at the table.
I do not envy the Democrat's situation - after all, what's the point of having a Democratic President and a Democratic majority in the House and Senate if they cannot deliver on universal health care? But the use of reconciliation would not count as "delivering." Rather it would represent a disrepect for the process AND show a failure on the part of Democrats. They will have 60 Democrats by the time the votes are counted - a filibuster-proof majority. Resorting to reconciliation would show that the party could not even compromise with itself - forget about Republicans.
There are a few promising signs that reform will pass without reconciliation - Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has reached out to Republicans to try and build some concensus and the Baucus plan is moving forward and Harry Reid has signaled that with the 60th vote from Massachusetts reconcilliation may not be needed.
During the Bush years, Democrats insisted that 60 votes was an appropriate standard for judicial nominees, if it was good enough for judicial confirmations then it's certainly appropriate for the most sweeping social reform in 45 years.
At least Hoyer and Reid are thinking about the long game... who knows what Pelosi is thinking.