Obama Pushes Reconciliation, Action On Health Care Overhaul
In his White House speech Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama outlined his updated health overhaul plan and endorsed a legislative maneuver meant to move the congressional efforts on health care reform forward.
The Washington Post: Obama's endorsement of using budget reconciliation, which would circumvent a Republican filibuster, "sent Democratic leaders scrambling to settle policy disputes and assemble the votes necessary for passage in the coming weeks. Obama told an audience of medical professionals that Congress 'owes the American people a final vote on health-care reform.'" The GOP will stand in the way of such a move, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate to pass a bill that would alter a number of provisions in the health care reform bill that the Senate has already approved. "Under the plan taking shape, the House would pass the legislation approved Christmas Eve by the Senate. Both chambers would then pass a reconciliation bill that consists of fixes, being negotiated by Democratic leaders, to address House concerns with the smaller and more moderate-leaning Senate bill." Obama did not use the word "reconciliation" in his remarks, but he said health reform "deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed and both Bush tax cuts - all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority" (Murray and Montgomery, 3/4).
The New York Times: "On Capitol Hill, the strategy could prove a heavy lift for the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who are now under intense pressure from the White House to translate Mr. Obama's wishes for a final bill into legislative language. Both leaders issued statements Wednesday praising Mr. Obama and vowing to press ahead. But, noticeably, neither publicly committed to Mr. Obama's timetable." Leadership aides said privately that the ambitious deadline would be difficult to meet and that final legislative language must still be sent to the Congressional Budget Office (Stolberg and Pear, 3/3).
Los Angeles Times: "Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill will not finish writing the reconciliation package until next week at the earliest, according to senior congressional aides." Pelosi (D-Calif.) "and other senior Democrats have suggested that abortion and immigration could be dealt with in future legislation. But for now, House leaders are trying to convince their members to look past individual problems they have with the bill" (Levey and Hook, 3/4).
McClatchy/Miami Herald: Once leaders have agreed on the legislation, the process will move forward like this: "The House of Representatives is expected to try to approve the health care bill that the Senate approved on Dec. 24. If that happens, then a second bill would be offered. That bill would be the reconciliation piece; it would reconcile changes that the House wants with the Senate's original version" (Lightman, 3/4).
NPR: Time is important for Democrats, who "had hoped to be long since done with the health care bill. They want to refocus their legislative efforts on jobs and the economy. Now Democratic leaders - with the help of President Obama, who will stump for the health bill in Philadelphia and St. Louis next week - have to convince wavering moderates that it will be more in their interest to pass this bill than to let the effort die" (Rovner, 3/4).
Roll Call: Centrist Democratic senators appear more open to the reconciliation process than they have in the past. "With few exceptions, Democratic moderates interviewed Wednesday revealed little resistance to the idea of using controversial budget reconciliation rules to clear the final health care reform package and deliver it to the president's desk. Given their strong opposition to embracing this strategy when health care was being debated last year, their fresh openness could prove significant even if some moderates ultimately vote 'no'" (Pierce and Drucker, 3/4).
But Republicans do not like this plan, The Christian Science Monitor reports. "If this bill is passed, in the next election every Republican candidate will be campaigning to repeal it," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Obama is "calling on us to ignore the wishes of the American people." Some House Democrats are cautious, too, because they worry the Senate would be unable to overcome objections to ensure that their changes are made (Chaddock, 3/3).
The Wall Street Journal: "Some Democrats say the partisan rancor the process would generate could drain so much political will from the Senate that it will make it tough to complete other major legislation this year. 'It would probably bring everything else to a stop,' said Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.)" (Meckler and Adamy, 3/3).
The Associated Press: And some rank-and-file Democrats "remain wary of health care legislation in spite of President Barack Obama's closing argument for overhauling the system, well aware that success is far from assured and political perils abound." The challenge will likely be most difficult in the House, "where the legislation passed by a narrow 220-215 margin in November. Since then several Democrats have defected or departed, and all 254 who remain are eyeing November midterm elections and a restive electorate clamoring for more jobs and skeptical of the health overhaul effort" (Werner, 3/4).
USA Today: "Democrats such as Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania and Walt Minnick of Idaho now have to make up their minds. They are among several moderate Democrats who have refused to pledge their votes. 'It's not a process that I'm very excited about,' said Minnick, who voted 'no' in November. 'I'd much rather have a bill that had enough bipartisan support.' Altmire said House Democrats don't want to vote again unless Senate passage is assured. 'There is concern about casting a vote that's not going to be followed up in the Senate,' he said" (Wolf and Fritze, 3/3).
Politico: The White House, in the meantime, is telling Democrats who are reconsidering their support that "they will pay the price for their original vote no matter what happens, so they should reap the political benefits of actually passing a law." The view from the White House and Democratic leaders is that these lawmakers "have little choice but to vote for it again" (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 3/3).
Roll Call: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs "acknowledged that some Democrats are worried that a vote for the overhaul could come back to haunt them in November's midterm elections. Obama's message to them? 'Good policy and good ideas, the politics will catch up with that,' he said" (Bendery, 3/4).