When the Senate will consider legislation containing the American Graduation Initiative (AGI) remains unclear. According to accounts today in the New York Times and Congressional Quarterly, Congressional Democrats are actively considering a plan by which they would pass final health care reform legislation by a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow the Democrats to pass the legislation in the Senate with only 51 votes. The AGI legislation, which includes several other funding components, is also budget reconciliation legislation. Under the terms of the FY2010 budget, the Senate can pass only one reconciliation bill, so the Senate Democrats must hold the AGI legislation until the health care debate is resolved. Should they choose to use reconciliation to pass health care, it would be joined with the AGI legislation.
The victory of Republican Scott Brown in last week’s special election in Massachusetts for former Senator Edward Kennedy’s seat robbed the Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate, thereby complicating their strategy for passing health care reform. The Brown victory left Congressional Democrats with two other options in addition to reconciliation to avoid a Senate filibuster on final health care legislation. The House could simply pass the Senate bill and send it to the President for his signature, an option that was rejected by Speaker Pelosi last week because of opposition by some House democrats to certain portions of the Senate bill. The Democrats could also retreat from the larger health care package and fashion smaller-scale legislation that would garner enough Republican support to get 60 votes in the Senate, a tact that some Democrats seem to favor.
For now, though, the reconciliation option is very much in the mix, meaning that the AGI legislation will continue to wait until the reconciliation option is either used or taken off the table. The situation is fluid and once decisions are made, however, action on both the health measure and education bill could occur very quickly.