Dems mull reconciliation to push through reforms: report


House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi says there aren't enough votes in the House to pass the Senate version of health reform, but what that means for the future of health reform is far from clear.

"In its present form without any changes I don't think it's possible to pass the Senate bill in the House," Pelosi said after meeting with the Democratic caucus on Thursday, adding, "I don't see the votes for it at this time."

In the wake of Democrats losing their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the Democratic leadership had proposed quickly passing the Senate version of health reform in the House. But over the past few days it's become clear that the Senate version -- which, unlike the House version, has no public option and includes a number of controversial side deals -- is unacceptable to many House Democrats.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama hinted at another direction, seemingly proposing that the large omnibus health bills be scrapped and replaced with "scaled-back" legislation that could pass both the House and Senate. It was a move that the Washington Post described as "adding to the confusion" over the fate of health care reforms.

But Michael Mcauliff at the New York Daily News is reporting that the Democratic leadership is considering using reconciliation to pass a health bill. Reconciliation is a budgetary procedure that can't be filibustered, meaning that Democrats would need simple 50-percent-plus-one majorities to pass health reform, instead of the 60 percent majority needed under a filibuster.

That would suggest that Democrats are still considering passing a robust health reform bill, but, as Mcauliff noted, "it’s still unclear to us precisely what that means would be passed ... possibilities would be creating a national health care exchange and expanding Medicare or Medicaid coverage."

Greg Sargent at the Plum Line suggests that reconciliation may, in fact, be the tool by which the House can pass the Senate bill and then return to "fix" the bill.

[The House could pass] the Senate bill while simultaneously creating a mechanism that would make it possible, or even mandatory, to fix the bill later through reconciliation, meaning those fixes would only require 51 votes in the Senate.

If such a mechanism were created, it might — repeat, might — induce enough House Dems to reconsider, making it possible for them to pass the Senate bill. No one knows how feasible such a mechanism would be. But it’s being studied as we speak.

Pelosi backed away from the idea, popular among Democrats earlier this week, that the health bill needs to be passed quickly to avoid the appearance of political failure in the wake of Republican Scott Brown's election to the Senate in the Massachusetts special election.

"We're not in a big rush" on health care, Pelosi said. "Pause, reflect."

That approach appears to have the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as well. "We're not going to rush into anything," Reid said, as quoted at the Washington Post. "Remember, the bill we passed in the Senate is good for a year. There are many different things that we can do to move forward on health care, but we're not making any of those decisions now."

But, in yet another sign there is no agreement yet among Democrats on how to move forward, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Thursday urged lawmakers to move forward as quickly as possible on health reform. Schumer wants health reform "off the table by March," TalkingPointsMemo reported.

"I don't think we want this to go on for three more months," he said. "You have to make a decision."

Schumer confirmed that reconciliation is one of the options being considered by Democrats.

Some Democrats continue to push the idea of abandoning the big bills and focusing on smaller, more focused efforts to address problems in the health care system, such as high costs, lack of access and the practice of refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions.

"The mega bills are dead," Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) told the Associated Press. "If we didn't see what happened Tuesday night, we have blinkers on. ... We're obviously finding out we don't have an ideal world, so why not deal with that which we can get done."