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Reconciliation Gaining Momentum to Pass Health Care

Senate Democrats have decided to forge ahead with health care reform using a process called reconciliation, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told Politico today.

Reconciliation would allow Democrats in the Senate to bypass a filibuster by passing a health care bill with just 51 votes.

Harkin reportedly said the House will first pass the Senate health care bill after the Senate has proven to House leaders there are enough votes to pass a reconciliation measure. After the House passes the Senate bill, both chambers will have to pass a separate reconciliation measure to "fix" the Senate bill.

Harkin announced the decision after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as well as Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Since reconciliation may only be used on matters pertaining to the budget, it is unlikely Congress will be able to amend any provisions in the Senate bill relating to hot button topics like immigration or abortion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that those issues are not central to the Democrats' goal of attaining accessible, affordable health care.

"This is not an immigration bill. It is not an abortion bill," she said. "It is a bill about affordable health care for all Americans."

It is likely the reconciliation measure will include new proposals from President Obama, such as giving federal authorities the power to limit health insurance rate increases.

President Obama this week sent a letter to Congress outlining some Republican ideas he wants to incorporate into the bill. The president will deliver remarks about how he wants to proceed with health care this afternoon.

On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, defended reconciliation, saying that the procedure would only be used for "minor" issues with the bill.

The reconciliation bill, he said, "would be on sidecar issues designed to improve what passed the Senate and what would have to pass the House for health care reform to move forward."

Republicans have decried the process, even though it has been used in the past by both parties on a number of occasions.

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