Will healthcare reform nix any Senate bipartisanship on other bills?

GOP senators who have been willing to work openly with Democrats say that the process for healthcare reform could end the prospects for bipartisanship elsewhere. Possibly at stake in the Senate: comprehensive immigration reform and financial regulation.

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom
Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd (D) spoke at a briefing Thursday after he halted bipartisan talks on financial regulatory overhaul and set forth plans to move forward on his own.

Democrats have found very few Republicans to work with since taking back control of Congress in 2007.

But GOP senators who have been willing to work with Democrats openly on big bills say that a bid to move healthcare with only Democratic votes will end bipartisan prospects for other legislation.

After a meeting with President Obama on Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said that healthcare could sink prospects for comprehensive immigration reform.

“I expressed, in no uncertain terms, my belief that immigration reform could come to a halt for the year if health care reconciliation goes forward,” he said in a statement.

Reconciliation is a procedure that allows legislation to pass with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes now typical for major bills in the Senate. With the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts, the Democratic caucus has 59 members – one short of the count needed to end a Republican filibuster.

“For more than a year, healthcare has sucked most of the energy out of the room. Using reconciliation to push healthcare through will make it much harder for Congress to come together on a topic as important as immigration,” Senator Graham added.

Republicans who have backed comprehensive immigration reform in the past, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, are not actively working with Democrats on this bill. Violence on the Mexican border, Senator McCain says, makes it imperative to first find a solution to border security. Mr. Obama said Thursday that his “commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering.”

The timing of the healthcare votes, said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, also forced a premature end to bipartisan negotiations on financial regulation in the Senate Finance Committee.

“In fairness, there's no question that the White House, politics, and healthcare have kept us from getting to the goal line. No question,” he said in a press briefing on Thursday.

This week, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, announced that the panel will begin marking up financial reform regulation next week.

"Each week, we let it slip a little bit, because we thought we could get a little further along in developing a consensus product,” said Senator Dodd at a briefing on Thursday. “The committee print, or the proposal, that I'll offer on Monday does reflect a lot of the ideas that Bob Corker and others have brought to the table. But clearly, we need to move along.”

Dodd dismissed suggestions that healthcare had poisoned the water for his financial reform bill. “Put aside [healthcare] reconciliation and everything else: The moment has arrived to put down a proposal,” he added.

According to Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, met with Republicans some 60 times in a bid to produce a consensus product on healthcare, without success – hence the move to reconciliation.

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