From NBC's Ken Strickland
On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to mark President Obama's first 100 days in office by passing a budget that outlines most of his spending and political priorities. While the budget is a non-binding resolution that doesn't even require the president's signature, its implementation will likely set the stage for Congress to pass a sweeping health-care reform bill in a filibuster-proof manner.
A procedure tool, known as "reconciliation," would allow Democrats to pass health-care legislation with a simple 51 vote majority, leaving Republicans powerless to stop it. (There are currently 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.
While there has been much consternation over reconciliation -- some Republicans have equated using it to a declaration of political war -- it will be months before there could possibly be any REAL fireworks. Democrats say if Republicans come to the health=care negotiating table and work with them on passage, they'll keep reconciliation in the holster.
Other significant items this week include the likely confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius to Secretary of Health and Human Services on Tuesday, after eight hours of debate. Republicans have forced Democratic leaders to muster 60 votes for her confirmation.
And on Thursday morning, Secretaries Clinton and Gates appear before the Appropriations panel to make the case for the president's $83 billion war funding request. We expect some tough questions on not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but also on Pakistan and GITMO, for which money is also earmarked.