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A key House committee on Thursday quietly altered its health care legislation in a way that could allow the Senate to mow over Republican opposition to Democratic reforms by exploiting a budgetary loophole.
The long-discussed process, nicknamed the "nuclear option," is known as reconciliation. It's coming into potential play after the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday became the last of five committees to approve health care reform legislation, sending the overhaul proposals a big step closer to the president's desk. Before it gets there, though, the bill has to pass from the committees to the floors of the House and Senate.
Under the normal process, senators can filibuster almost anything and the debate would only be cut off if at least 60 lawmakers vote to do so. For that reason, 60 is considered the magic number in the quest to pass health care reform out of the Senate.
But under reconciliation, typically used in the budget process, no filibusters are permitted and a bill can pass with just a simple majority.
Structuring the health care bill in this way allows it to be scooped up in the reconciliation process, which could torpedo the Republicans' trump card.
"The secret of the week is that Democrats pulled the trigger on the nuclear option," warned Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., top Republican on the House budget committee and a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. "They built their vehicle today."