The only way for the health care bill to pass is for the House to pass the Senate bill with fixes achieved through a reconciliation “sidecar” process. There is no other path to 218 votes in the House, without changes to the Senate bill. While the bulk of those changes have largely been covered and even resolved in negotiations, Senate Democrats need to be willing to use the process, which has been trash-talked by Republicans into something extraordinary.

That’s how you get media reports like this, with a former Senate Parliamentarian saying how it my be difficult to pass policy fixes in reconciliation not related to the budget, when this is well-known by those who want to use the process, and nobody has suggested using it for anything else. The article, appearing in an insider paper, is nothing more than a way to depress enthusiasm for using reconciliation among Hill Democrats. The fact that the conservative Galen Institute hosted the conference call where this ex-Parliamentarian spoke gets short shrift in the article. Henry Aaron from the Brookings Institution, not exactly a lefty organization, disagrees and thinks that this situation is exactly what reconciliation was built for.

I question whether the House can round up the necessary 218 (actually 217 at the moment, because there are two vacancies) votes for passage, because of the elements that cannot be fixed in reconciliation, like the abortion funding issue. But the greater hurdle is the willingness among Senate Democrats to use the process, which could open it up for significant on-budget changes to the bill, like subsidy increases, Medicare buy-in or even the public option. That’s why Chris Bowers of OpenLeft has crowdsourced a journalism project, seeking answers from as many Senators as possible on whether they favor the process.

We will be engaging in a major group journalism event to help provide information on this whip count. To do this, we need a couple dozen volunteers willing to make media inquiries to Senators asking them the following questions:

Hello, my name is [FILL IN BLANK, use real name] and I have a media inquiry from Openleft.com. Can you please put me in contact with the pres secretary / communications director?

[And then, once in contact]

Hi, my name is [FILL IN BLANK, use real name] and I have a media inquiry from Openleft.com. Can you please tell me if:

1–Senator [FILL IN BLANK] supports using the reconciliation process to forge a deal with the House of Representatives and finish health reform?

and

2–Does Senator {FILL IN BLANK] support including a public option in that reconciliation process, including signing onto Senator Bennet’s letter on the public option?

The responses have been rolling in. Thus far, 20 Senate Democrats are on the record supporting the reconciliation process, with one maybe (Mark Pryor) and only two definite no’s (Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh). What’s more, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, Sheldon Whitehouse and Al Franken have backed the effort started yesterday to pass the public option through the reconciliation process, making it 8 Senators on the record for that. Both of these responses need 50 yes votes out of the 59 Senate Democrats, because reconciliation cannot be filibustered.

This crowdsourcing effort has just begun, and I’ll be both monitoring the progress and participating to see how many Senators will go on the record about using this tool available to them to pass health care. If we learn by the end of the week, the guessing game can then stop.