Dems Plot Health Reform Contingency Plans If GOP Wins Massachusetts Senate Seat
Democrats are considering several courses of action to pass a health care reform bill if Massachusetts Senate hopeful Democrat Martha Coakley loses to Republican Scott Brown in a special election Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.
"White House and Senate Democratic officials said Monday that they believed asking the House to pass the Senate health bill unchanged was likely to be their best hope if their party loses a Senate seat in Massachusetts. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office signaled Monday that the House wouldn't go along with that, and the bill's fate dimmed." Democratic aides say this scenario would be "difficult to pull off. House liberals oppose the key differences in the Senate version: a tax on high-end insurance plans and less generous assistance to help low-income Americans buy insurance. "
Another option: Trying to move the bill through the Senate using reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that requires only 51 votes for passage, instead of the 60 votes "that a typical bill needs to block a filibuster." Using this mechanism would "require significantly stripping down the bill since the maneuver applies only to budget legislation" (Adamy and Bendavid, 1/19).
The Hill also reports on the various options being considered by Congressional Democrats. "Leaders will make a final decision when results of the election are known, but sources close to the Democratic leadership in both chambers say a speedy vote is the best option." If leaders decide to ask the House to pass the Senate version, however, they could then "use special procedural rules known as budget reconciliation to amend it post-passage. A third, albeit unlikely, option would be to seek one Senate Republican to join the remaining 59 Democrats and Independents in passing the final bill." The likely target would be Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, though a recent New York Times magazine piece revealed recently that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid viewed negotiations with Snowe in the past as a "waste of time" (Bolton, 1/18).
Politico: "Democrats thought lots of things might derail their longtime dream this time around. Losing a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts was not on the list. But that is the harsh reality sinking in among Democrats - that a Republican victory Tuesday could spell the end of health reform because there is no good option to rescue the plan from this latest brush with political death" (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 1/18).
The Christian Science Monitor reports on the negatives behind using reconciliation to move health reform through Congress. "It involves breaking the health care bill into many pieces and proving that each would trim the deficit. Using reconciliation on non-budget bills has been called the 'nuclear option' because of the ill-will and partisanship it generates in the Senate. It would be subject to GOP attack at every turn. Moreover, President Obama would find it difficult to sell the result as the sort of healthcare reform worthy of being the defining domestic achievement of his first years in office" (Grier, 1/18).
The New York Times: "Some Democrats suggested that even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, scraped out a narrow victory on Tuesday, they might need to ask House Democrats to speed the legislation to the president's desk, especially if lawmakers who had supported the bill begin to waver as they consider the political implications of a tough re-election cycle.It is unclear if rank-and-file Democrats would go along, and House Democratic leaders said no final decision would be made until they talked to their caucus" (Herszenhorn and Pear, 1/18).
Los Angeles Times, on the risks associated with asking the House to pass the Senate version of the bill: "It could further irritate House liberals, discourage the party's progressive base going into the November elections, and open Obama and congressional Democrats to charges that they rammed through healthcare despite a rebuff by voters in one of the party's most impregnable bastions" (Levey, 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.