By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Within 24 hours of the historic election in Massachusetts that robbed the Senate of its filibuster-proof super-majority, the White House and Congressional leaders are beginning to concede that their plans to “ram through” a health care reform package before the President’s first State of the Union address on Jan. 27 may have to be shelved.
The seismic shift in strategy comes about on the heels of the unexpected victory of Massachusetts Republican State Senator Scott Brown over the state’s Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley for the coveted senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. Brown’s win reduces the Senate’s majority to 59 votes rather than the filibuster-proof 60.
With the controversial health care reform bill barely passing the Senate as it is, congressional leaders are now realizing that the loss of the seat will probably prevent them from passing the bill in its current form.
The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that the President, who initially said it was “full speed ahead” on health care, is now saying that a bill should not be “rammed through” before Senator-elect Brown is seated, which could be weeks from now.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agrees. “We’re not going to rush into anything. We will wait until the new senator arrives.”
Administration officials are said to be “working behind the scenes” on what could be their last best hope to pass health care reform any time soon – convincing the House to pass the Senate bill.
However, this option is losing steam among House members who consider the bill to be “a bitter pill to swallow,” according to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). This is particularly true among liberal members who disapprove of the Senate version because it lacks a public option. Pro-life members have already said they won’t sign on because the Senate bill includes abortion funding.
As a result, many members just aren’t willing to sign on. “Full speed ahead is off the table,” Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) told the AP. “We are still very much in the exercise of drawing meaning from the public disquiet.”
Insiders, such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) say the bill just won’t pass. “If you ran that Senate bill right now on the House floor, I’ll bet you would not get 100 votes for it,” he said.
It takes 218 votes to pass legislation.
The president is not giving up, however. During an interview with ABC News yesterday, he suggested putting off the goal of covering all Americans for a later date and concentrating on passing elements of reform that everyone can agree on.
“We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people,” the president said. “We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don’t then our budgets are going to blow up. And we know that small businesses are going to need help.”
Many Democrats are wary of starting over with the fear of never being able to produce a bill that everyone can agree upon. But more and more lawmakers are calling for this more reasonable and measured approach to the whole issue of health care reform.
“Given the public concern, I think that we ought to focus on that which…the public can support and will be positive in terms of making health care more affordable and obtainable,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). This would mean passing health care reform legislation in pieces rather than in one large bill.
Jim Clyburn (D-SC), House Majority Whip agrees. “Medicare wasn’t done in one fell swoop,” he said. “You lay a foundation and you get this thing done over time.”
The dimming prospects are especially difficult to accept because House and Senate Democrats were on the verge of working out their differences and producing a final bill when Brown’s victory posed new obstacles they may prove insurmountable.
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