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Pelosi, Reid Work Separately

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been so focused on getting a health care bill through the House that coordination with the Senate on the issue hasn’t been a priority.

The Speaker’s insistence that the public option be included in any final bill that is sent to the president has caused some consternation in the Senate.

“I don’t know what her endgame is, because I see [her] comments, but at least on this side of the Capitol, the public option is shelved for the moment,” said one Democratic Senator who asked to remain anonymous. “I’d think she’d take some account of that. It’s odd that she continues to insist on something that is very unlikely over here.”

But other Democrats said it’s unfair to blame one leader or the other.

“There’s plenty of culpability on both sides,” another House Democrat said. “The Speaker is stubborn and Harry can’t deliver.”

Others in the Senate defended Pelosi and Reid as doing what they have to do to navigate the politics of their respective chambers.

“She knows the score in the Senate and understands the votes aren’t there in the Senate for a public option,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.

The aide added, “It’s all the typical posturing that goes on as both bodies get ready to deal with legislation. ... You’ve got to separate the rhetoric from the reality, and the reality is she’s got to play to her Caucus and Reid has to play to his.”

On the House side, the lack of coordination is pinching those who should be most closely aligned with the more moderate approach being pursued by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.): centrist and conservative Democrats.

Members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and others from marginal districts have pushed House Democratic leaders to track the timing and substance of their legislation more closely with the Senate Finance Committee. The Blue Dogs’ resistance to quick action in July while Baucus’ panel stalled helped persuade leaders to punt wrap-up work on the package until after the August recess. Aiding in that effort may have been that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Blue Dogs’ top ally in leadership, regularly communicates with Reid to coordinate floor schedules and discuss the direction of debate in both chambers.

Now, as House Democrats hunker down to make tough decisions on the final shape of the bill, some are raising concerns about Reid’s ability to close the deal in his chamber. The concerns are not new: House Democrats have pointed fingers at the Senate’s pace and Reid’s leadership in the past.

“The problem is a lack of confidence that Harry can deliver,” one House Democrat said. “It’s complicating negotiations. We want to see the whites of their eyes before we shoot, but we’re worried he’s just not able to move votes.”

Part of the problem can be chalked up to long-standing institutional tensions between the chambers: Liberals have an easier time getting their way in the House and chafe at arguments from moderates in the Senate that they need to pursue a centrist approach to move bills through a body that almost always requires a 60-vote threshold for passage.

That friction was evident last month, the night that Obama delivered his address to a joint session of Congress.

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