Princeton history and public affairs professor Julian Zelizer cuts through the complexity. The Democrats, he says, have two things to worry about. First, they must consider "whether using reconciliation to pass health care is legitimate or an abuse of the process." The answer, he says, is simple: reconciliation is legitimate. Zelizer points to 22 reconciliation bills from 1980 to 2008, and declares the process as legitimate as the filibuster.
Zelizer moves on to the second concern. Can the Democrats avoid a backlash, and convince their own party that reconciliation won't "scare off independent voters"? This is "more difficult," Zelizer admits. But he holds that reconciliation--despite the prevailing wisdom--isn't as risky as it seems. It really is worth the cost:
Right now, Democrats are receiving the brunt of Republican attacks without being able to pass much legislation. If they pass health care, they will be able to respond to the arguments of the GOP, not just by complaining that Republicans obstruct everything, but by pointing to specific benefits such as lowering premiums by expanding how many people purchase coverage and bringing tens of millions of Americans into the health care system ... If they don't [pass health care reform] one thing is for certain: Democrats will go into election day facing voters who are hearing all the complaints about their party but seeing very little in terms of what they can deliver on health care.