Sen. Nelson Signals Support For Health Overhaul Bill; Hoyer Offers Alternative Way to Move Legislation Forward
Speaking at a conference hosted by the Federation of American Hospitals Tuesday, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who withheld his support for a healthcare overhaul bill until just before the Senate passed it in December, "strongly hinted that he is prepared to back the final push to finish the job this spring," The Hill reports. "'Doing nothing on healthcare reform might seem like a reasonable option to some, but in my opinion it's not. Our nation's healthcare crisis will only get worse the longer we delay,' Nelson said. ... Nelson had been a skeptic of the Democratic healthcare reform proposals since the legislative process began a year ago and voted for the Senate bill only after securing new language designed to prevent federal money from paying for abortion services as well as additional funding for his home state's Medicaid program. But with his vote for the bill on the record, and his name indelibly linked to healthcare reform because of the so-called 'Cornhusker kickback' deal for the Medicaid money ... Nelson appears poised to join his fellow Democrats in advancing the legislation via budget reconciliation rules that would allow a House-Senate compromise package to pass the upper chamber on a simple majority vote."
"Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), speaking at the same event, predicted that the Senate Democratic leadership would easily be able to lock down the 50 votes it needs to pass the reconciliation process (with Vice President Joe Biden available to cast a tie-breaking vote if needed). ... Observing that it will be more difficult for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to get 216 members of her caucus to vote for healthcare reform, ... Bayh was less optimistic about final passage" (Young, 3/2).
Roll Call: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday "laid out a path forward for passing health care legislation that wouldn't require House Democrats to first swallow a Senate plan that they largely oppose. ... Hoyer said that while the House is constitutionally required to initiate reconciliation bills, that doesn't mean the House would have to pass the Senate bill first before passing a reconciliation bill to amend it." Instead, the House "'could pass the reconciliation first, have the reconciliation passed by the Senate and then pass the Senate bill,' Hoyer said. From there, he said, the president would have to sign the Senate bill first and then the reconciliation package," a process Hoyer admitted would be "'more complicated'" (Bendery, 3/2).
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Tuesday warned Democrats "that Republicans will use the issue of health care to bludgeon them in the November mid-term elections if Democrats succeed in passing a comprehensive overhaul," New York Times' Prescriptions reports. "His comments reflected growing Republican concern over President Obama's resolve to secure passage of a comprehensive health care measure, which would be viewed as big Democratic achievement" (Herszenhorn, 3/2).