KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Health Reform: Divided Democrats Consider Next Steps

The Washington Post:  "Unless Democrats can thread a very narrow legislative needle, Republican Scott Brown's upset victory over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts on Tuesday could lead to the collapse of a health-care bill that, only weeks ago, appeared close to becoming law." Though Democratic leaders have tried, in public, to be positive that the health bill "could remain on course," there are increasing concerns that moderates will now "begin to back away from the legislation, fearing its political effects."

Democrats met briefly after Coakley's concession and lawmakers said "they will spend the coming days considering an array of long-shot scenarios, each with serious downsides." Pelosi, said that the House is unlikely to take up the Senate-passed version of the bill, which is one way Democrats could still pass a bill (Murray and Montgomery, 1/20).

The New York Times reports that the idea of pushing the Senate-passed plan through the House "was favored by some lawmakers and strategists as a way to quickly deliver the president a bill on a signature domestic achievement, since it would require just one final House vote." A second measure would be advanced to address remaining problems. But "Democrats now face decisions on whether to give up on the health care fight – an approach few lawmakers appear willing to entertain – or perhaps pull together a scaled-back measure and use special procedural rules that would eliminate the need for 60 votes in the Senate" (Hulse, 1/20).

The Wall Street Journal: "'The Senate bill clearly is better than nothing,' House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) told reporters early Tuesday. Mr. Hoyer stressed that he wasn't predicting the House would approve the Senate bill as written.  By late Tuesday, House Democrats signaled that would be a tall order" to convince House lawmakers to pass the Senate version of the health bill. Liberal Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) said Democrats should hold off on pushing ahead with health care for now. 'I don't think I can vote for the Senate bill, and I don't think there are the votes in the House for the Senate bill,' he said" (Adamy and Bendavid, 1/19).

The Hill: reports on the possibility of a "proposal that the House would then pass a second measure making changes to the Senate bill. That measure could then pass through the upper chamber at a later date under special budgetary rules known as reconciliation, which allow legislation to pass with a simple majority" (Bolton, 1/19).

The Boston Globe: Some Democrats are also recognizing the "very real possibility the effort could collapse." But the differences in opinions among members of the caucus are quickly emerging. "'It would be wrong substantively and politically for Democrats to try to pass the bill despite the election,' said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts. 'I think we now have to begin some negotiations over a different bill.' He said the next step should be to see whether Republicans will make good on their persistent offers to start anew on a bipartisan deal." Rep. Patrick Kennedy, son of Sen. Ted Kennedy, said he thought the best way forward would be to pass the Senate bill in the House and fix it later with reconciliation (Wangsness, 1/20).

Politico: Democrats' options now "are few, and extremely complex, mostly involving legislative tactics that would be difficult to pull off in the best of circumstances, let alone at a time when members are worried they could be the next Martha Coakley. ... And already Tuesday night, Democrats were being forced to come to terms with the prospect that their decades-long goal of health reform might once again fall short, despite getting closer to becoming law than ever before" (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 1/19).

The New York Daily News reports on other signs of division. "Prospects for President Obama's foremost legislative priority suffered a second body blow moments after Republican Scott Brown's win over Martha Coakley when Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) broke with his party. 'I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Sen.-elect Brown is seated,' said Webb, who squeaked into the Senate four years ago and faces a tough reelection race in 2012" (McAuliff, 1/20). 

Los Angeles Times: Others are asking that jobs legislation and other priorities take center stage. "'It is really time now,' said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), 'for Democrats to shift their attention to issues that will enjoy broad public support.' Most worrisome for the party is polling data that indicates Obama's healthcare bill has helped turn independent voters - who fueled his presidential campaign to victory - into antagonists" (Hook and Levey, 1/20).

The Associated Press: "But David Plouffe, who directed Obama's presidential campaign, rejected calls to scrap the bill. 'We have a good health care plan,' he said. 'We need to pass that. We have to lead'"(Johnson and Sidoti, 1/20).

CongressDaily: Some House Democratic leaders remained steadfast. "'The reports of [healthcare reform's] death, as Mark Twain would say, have been exaggerated,' said House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut. 'So, we're going to move forward and we're going to pass healthcare reform,' he said" (Edney and House, 1/20).

For KHN related Daily Report coverage, see Health Overhaul May Have Helped Capsize Mass. Democrat, 1/19.   

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.