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GOP Launches Final Moves Against Health Bill

The GOP officially launches its last stand against health care reform today, when a united Republican Conference takes to the Senate floor in an effort to dismantle portions of the legislation with a variety of tactics.

Republicans are “virtually certain” there are flaws in the Democrats’ strategy that can be exploited to thwart the majority party’s plan for wrapping up health care legislation within the next few days, a senior Republican Senate aide said.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama will be taking a victory lap — albeit a subdued one at least for now — today when he signs the core of the legislation cleared by the House late Sunday night.

After Obama signs that legislation into law, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will officially call up the health care reconciliation package, also passed by the House on Sunday night. The package is potentially vulnerable to a variety of procedural challenges — not to mention GOP amendments that some Democrats would find hard to resist.

The reconciliation package includes crucial changes to the health care legislation demanded by House Democrats.

The Senate Republicans’ maneuvering has been happening off the floor for days. Senate Republicans on Monday moved to topple the reconciliation package entirely, arguing to chamber Parliamentarian Alan Frumin that it violates the narrow rules governing such bills and should be subject to a filibuster.

The GOP hopes, at a minimum, to force the House to vote again on the measure.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope to clear the reconciliation package no later than Sunday, and leadership continues to push for party unity during the amendment process. The majority will attempt to put the Republicans on the defensive politically and make the case for the policy benefits in the legislation while defending the bill against GOP procedural attacks.

“At some point it’s out of our hands,” said Jim Manley, a top spokesman for Reid. “We will continue to make the best case we can, all the while trying to defeat any amendments or points of order.”

The reconciliation package is expected to drop on the Senate floor this afternoon. Senate Democrats expect the legislation’s allowable debate time of 20 hours to expire on Thursday, after which the Republicans are likely to unleash a flood of amendments in a “vote-a-rama” session. Under reconciliation rules, there is no cap on amendments, but with no debate time permitted on those amendments, Senators are likely to engage in one roll-call vote after another.

Reid has committed to the White House and House Democrats that at least 51 Democrats will support the legislation and send it to the president’s desk. But his toughest task might be holding his caucus together to vote against GOP amendments designed to be attractive to moderate Democrats.

Procedural War

Reconciliation rules, which allow for a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority as opposed to the customary 60 votes, are governed by narrow guidelines that demand all provisions have direct deficit implications while inhibiting expansive policy changes.

Accordingly, Republicans plan to raise several points of order, and if Frumin sides with the GOP on any such efforts, Democrats lack the 60 votes required to overcome points of order. Even the smallest change to a reconciliation package requires that it be sent back to the House.

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