From NBC's Ken Strickland
As Congress prepares to vote on a budget that would include a procedural tool allowing Democrats to effectively shutout Republicans and pass sweeping health-care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today extended an olive branch across the aisle.
"Make no mistake -- we are determined to reform health care this year." Reid said in a letter to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. "Our strong preference is to do so by working alongside you and your caucus."
Congress on Wednesday is expected to pass its budget, which will include a procedure measure known as "reconciliation" allowing Democrats to pass health-care legislation with a simple 51-vote majority. That would leave Republicans powerless to stop it (there are 58 Democrats.) Almost all major legislation moving through the Senate requires 60 votes to break filibusters, but bringing health care under reconciliation would make it filibuster-proof.
Today, Reid suggested Senate Democrats would resist using it -- in the short term -- if Republicans worked with them constructively in drafting a health-care bill. "The budget we will vote on this week gives us nearly six months to work together toward a comprehensive reform bill," he wrote. "Let's use that time to work together in our common interest rather than against each other and against the interests of the American people."
The Majority Leader never used the word "reconciliation" in his letter, but pushed back on Republicans who've already denounced the procedure as the antithesis of bipartisanship. Reid told McConnell the Senate must not "be sidetracked by squabbles about arcane Senate procedure, as some in your party seem intent to do."