Whether “comprehensive health care reform” can be passed through reconciliation is at the moment an academic debate, because both houses of Congress have already passed comprehensive reform. The plan of the Democratic leadership now is to have the House pass the Senate bill, then to have both houses pass amendments to the package which, due to their budget-related nature, could clear the Senate via reconciliation. It’s not clear whether this will work—the hold-up is in the House, which doesn’t trust the Senate and would have to swallow some provisions its members don’t care for—but that’s the plan. It’s a plan that Conrad himself tentatively endorsed more than five weeks ago. It’s a plan that’s entirely consistent with his remarks on Sunday. And it’s a plan that he outlined again Monday while bashing the media for its reporting on reconciliation.

To be fair to the reporters who weren’t clear on this point, Conrad never quite clearly articulated this plan on FTN—whether because he’s a bad communicator, or because he was deliberately concealing something, or because he’s fixated on an intra-Democratic dispute about correct reconciliation procedure, it’s hard to say. And he did say, repeatedly, that reconciliation “won’t work.”

But that’s where the stenography point comes in. It would be wonderful if politicians were always clear and straightforward in their public comments. But they’re not, and that’s why just “reporting what they said” doesn’t always do the job. This was a case where readers, and viewers, needed journalists to do the work not just of reporting what Conrad said, but of explaining, correctly, what it meant.

Addendum: It’s ironic that a Politico blog post was at the center of the confusion here. For much of Monday, that post was featured with a link on the site’s home page that appeared directly under a larger link to health care reporter Carrie Budoff Brown’s latest story. Near its conclusion, that story included this paragraph:

But Democrats are not doing exactly what Byrd decried [in using reconciliation to advance major legislation]. Democrats already passed the comprehensive reform bill through the House and the Senate. They are now looking to make fixes to the bill by packaging changes in a reconciliation measure — a distinction that becomes lost in the debate.


Indeed.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.