Lawmakers May Have New Strategy to Pass Health Care Reform

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Congressional leaders seem to be uniting around a risky new plan that may represent their last best hope for quick passage of health care reform.

According to, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will present an idea to their caucuses this week that could allow the Senate’s controversial reform bill to pass the House and go directly to the President’s desk for signature.

The plan involves getting 51 Senators to agree to change the bill after its passage in ways that will make it more palatable to House members. These changes would involve budgetary aspects of the bill such as   taxing high-cost insurance plans, closing the coverage gap in the Medicare prescription benefit, and providing subsidies to help middle-income households pay insurance premiums.

Because all of these items involve economic aspects of the bill, they could pass with a simple majority of 51 in a procedure known as reconciliation. This would allow them to bypass the 60-vote ceiling that is now an impossible hurdle to surmount since last week’s election of the GOP’s 41st Senator, Scott Brown (R-MA).

But what would the political damage be if they jammed through a bill that is vastly unpopular with the American people and with the kind of partisanship they detest?

“I know that the short-term politics are bad,” said David Plouffe, the political adviser who helped elect Obama president and has just been summoned back by the White House to help coordinate this year’s elections.

“But politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside.” 

House and Senate leaders feel the same way. “We’ve put so much effort into this, so much hard work, and we were so close to doing some significant things. Now we have to find the political path that brings us out. And it’s not easy,” said the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois.

But the rank and file are much less enthusiastic. “To put up the white flag of surrender on bipartisanship when the country really wants that, I think is a mistake,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-OR) about passing a bill without Republican support.

“I think it’s important not to rush something through right now,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, (D-NE), whose deal to provide a special Medicaid subsidy to Nebraska in exchange for his vote sparked widespread outrage.

At the present time, it is unclear how the leaders would resolve other major disputes that don’t involve economics, such as how to restrict taxpayer funding for abortion.

National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson told that House lawmakers who vote for the pro-abortion Senate bill would be voting for government funding of abortion.

“Any House member who votes for the Senate bill will be accountable for voting for federal subsidies for abortion insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans, and for abortion insurance in a new program administered by the federal Office of Personnel Management, and for direct federal funding of abortion through Community Health Centers,” he said.

Irregardless of how the bill might be changed later, these lawmakers would be forced to go on record for voting for the most pro-abortion legislation ever passed by Congress, he said.
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