Congressional Democrats agree on $3.5 trillion budget plan; includes reconciliation

In a late-breaking story, the AP (4/28) reports, “Congressional Democrats sealed an agreement Monday night on a budget plan that would help President Obama overhaul the healthcare system but allow his tax cut for most workers to expire after next year.” Among the key details in the pact is the fact that it seeks to “prevent Senate Republicans from delaying or blocking Obama’s plan to vastly expand government-subsidized healthcare when it advances this fall.” The $3.5-trillion plan also “embraces several of Obama’s key goals besides healthcare reform, including funds for domestic programs and clean energy,” and changes to the tax code. Also, “an important wrinkle in this year’s measure would allow Obama’s health plan to pass the Senate by a simple majority instead of the 60 votes that are needed for much other legislation.”

Disagreements over spending and reconciliation revealed during meeting. The Washington Times (4/28, Rowland) reports, “Democratic lawmakers are barreling ahead on a budget deal that significantly eases procedural hurdles to healthcare reform, though the Senate budget chief said he ‘sincerely’ believes that Democrats will only use the fast-track option against Republicans as a last resort.” As the conferees from the House and Senate Budget Committees “met Monday for the first — and what will likely be the last — time,” there were “pointed disagreements” between the four Democrats and three Republicans, specifically “over the levels of spending” and the “education reforms.”

Democrats portrayed as moving purposefully towards passing health reform. The Hill (4/28, Young) reports, “A battle over the future of the nation’s healthcare began in earnest Monday as Democrats pushed forward at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.” Although “talk of bipartisanship has not disappeared, one thing is certain: The Democrats are moving aggressively ahead, even if they have to go it alone.” Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle said that American voters “made their voices heard at the ballot box when they elected a president committed to reform.”

Republican working group aims to beat Democrats to the punch on health reform plan. CongressDaily (4/28, Edney) reports, “If Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican physician from Louisiana, gets his way, the House GOP will produce a legislative proposal to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system before House Democrats release their own plan.” Boustany “told CongressDaily late last week he is pushing, seemingly with some support, to complete a proposal before Memorial Day.” Boustany sits on a Republican task force for health reform, which “agreed just last week on five healthcare overhaul principles.” By “beating Democrats to the punch” the Republicans hope to “portray more cohesiveness.”

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