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The latest trial balloon from the Democratic leadership is that they might split healthcare reform into two bills.  The first would have all the controversial provisions and would go through the reconciliation process, where it needs only 50 votes.  The second would go through the normal process and therefore need 60 votes, but since it includes the stuff that’s widely popular it would pass anyway.  But Ezra Klein is puzzled: if you piss off Republicans by using reconciliation for Bill #1, what are the odds you can then sweet talk them into supporting Bill #2?

The one potential answer is that reconciliation isn’t about bypassing the GOP at all. It’s about bypassing a handful of centrist Democrats. Angry Republicans won’t support a consensus-oriented second bill after being cut out of the important work of the first. But Democrats like Kent Conrad might, as reconciliation won’t specifically have hurt them, even as its real point was to take the process out of their hands and put it back in the hand of the Democratic Senate Leadership.

It’s hard to say if this chatter is really serious, but if it is the point is probably to protect centrist Democrats.  They can vote against Bill #1 and for Bill #2, and then go home and tell their constituents that they voted against a gummint takeover of healthcare (public option, strong subsidies) but in favor of sticking it to the evil insurance industry.

At least, that’s the usual thinking behind this kind of thing.  Harry Reid probably isn’t under the delusion that he can get more then one or two Republican votes no matter what, but he does care about protecting the flanks of his own caucus.  This is one way to do it.

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