The probability that health care reform legislation passes this year just went up.
Earlier in the week, House and Senate leaders came close to a decision to use an arcane procedure called the reconciliation process, that can speed passage and bypass the usual 60 vote majority required to avoid a Senate filibuster. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad one of the negotiators of the budget bill that may include the reconciliation language believes that "the reconciliation process could lead to a health care bill that looks like "Swiss cheese" in that it would be full of holes. In the reconciliation process, provisions of legislation that aren't related to government spending or revenue can be cut out by the Senate parliamentarian."
To avoid the Swiss cheese version of health reform, Democrats will need 60 votes in the Senate. Yesterday, they came one step closer to this goal with the announcement that Arlen Specter is changing parties to become the 59th senator that caucuses with the Democrats. The Wall Street Journal reports that "if, as expected, Democrat Al Franken prevails in the contested Minnesota senatorial election, the president will have a majority large enough to break Republican efforts to impede his agenda without the legislative gamesmanship required to end filibusters. That advantage could give the White House enough votes to move ahead on a national health-care program..."