Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Senate Prepares Health Care Finale

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (left), huddling with Finance Chairman Max Baucus, is looking to bring the yearlong health care debate to a relatively drama-free close this week.

“I think some of the wind has already started to blow out of [Republicans’] sails, in the main sense because the president signed the [comprehensive] bill. Health care reform is now law, and that says a lot right there. In fact, it’s all over,” Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said.

Baucus, along with Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), said Tuesday that they believe reconciliation will survive Republican challenges to provisions. But they held out the possibility that a small number of items could be nixed if the Senate Parliamentarian rules in the GOP’s favor on any specific item in the bill. Sixty votes — one more than the 59 members of Senate Democratic Conference — are needed to retain reconciliation provisions that violate budget rules, and all 41 Republicans have vowed to uphold any parliamentary rulings that come down in their favor.

“We think we’re pretty much in the clear all the way around,” Baucus asserted Tuesday. “There’s one or two that might have to be changed. ... In the whole scheme of things, they’re not going to defeat the bill. They’re not poison pills, they’re not game-changers. They’re minor, and we can deal with minor changes.”

Conrad said his staff had recently found new precedents to defend the few provisions that Republicans were likely to challenge. As of press time, however, it was not clear whether the Parliamentarian had ruled on any GOP challenges to the bill. Republicans lost one major challenge Monday, when the Parliamentarian ruled that the bill did not violate rules barring reconciliation bills from making changes to Social Security.

Besides the sense of inevitability Senate Democrats have tried to create about the debate, Baucus hinted that the main reason Senate leaders are taking up the bill is because of their commitment to House Democrats to make fixes to the original Senate overhaul, not out of groundswell of desire among Senators to pass it.

“It’s very important to the House,” Baucus said when asked if it was important to pass the bill at all after the Senate bill’s signing.

“It’s important. We made a commitment to pass it. We’re going to pass it. But still the most important public policy that was done was in the bill that was signed by the president today,” Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) echoed.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans spent Tuesday afternoon firming up their strategy for combating the package.

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