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With the Democratic Party split over health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have been so focused on the politics of their own chambers that they have had little time for coordinating the overall strategy and message for moving a final plan through conference and onto the presidents desk.
Both Reid and Pelosi appear to be banking on President Barack Obama to bring them back together as they hunker down to secure even bare majorities in their respective chambers for health care reform.
However, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), who has served in leadership in both the House and Senate, said Wednesday that a lack of close coordination is natural and even necessary at this stage. It shows how difficult the conference will be, he said. But I think both leaders as well as everybody in our party understands that youve got to get something that will pass both chambers.
At issue are the diverging paths the House and Senate appear to be navigating, with the Senate almost certain to reject any proposal to create a public insurance option and the House hard-pressed to pass a bill without one.
While White House officials have been trying to forge compromises that will get bills through both bodies, they havent stressed interchamber harmony, senior aides and strategists said.
There hasnt been a lot of coordination because we dont know what the product is going to be, one knowledgeable Senate Democratic aide said.
Theres a lot of suspicion, one House Democrat said, adding that the communications gap goes beyond leadership to committee chairmen in both bodies.
Though Reid and Pelosi talk frequently during the week and meet at least once a week, the disconnect between them has been evident recently in the public comments each has made about what they would accept from the other chamber, as well as in their maneuvering behind the scenes.
Though Reid has repeatedly maintained that he supports a public insurance option, he also may need the vote of a Republican or two, and none in the Senate has said he could support a pure public insurance option along the lines of what the House has proposed. So Reid, along with the White House, has expressed tentative support for a proposal from moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to create a trigger for the public option if private insurers do not cut costs and increase coverage.
But while Reid said last week that a trigger was a pretty doggone good idea, Pelosi dismissed it outright as an excuse for not doing anything.