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Senate Races the Clock

Reid Still Eyes Next Week for Health Debate

Senate Democratic leaders are still pushing to bring up their health care reform bill next week, even though the gambit comes with risks as they race against the clock to get a measure passed before the end of the year.

“We’re going to get on health care ... before Thanksgiving, or at least give it our utmost to get on that bill,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor Monday evening.

By aiming to bring up the bill next week, Reid appears to be calculating that the public relations dangers of suspending debate for the weeklong Thanksgiving recess do not outweigh the need to get debate rolling, given the time-consuming roadblocks Republicans are expected to throw up.

Of course, the timing of any Senate bill depends in large part on when the Congressional Budget Office gives Reid its cost estimate of the bill, something Democratic aides said is expected by the end of this week. The Senate is already eyeing a short workweek, with plans to adjourn tonight for the rest of the week for the Veterans Day holiday.

Reid plans to poll the Senate Democratic Conference during its weekly lunch today to get Members’ thoughts on whether to try to move forward next week or to wait until the first week in December.

“I think Members of the caucus are going to realize that we don’t have the luxury to wait any longer” to begin debating the bill, one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “We have a tight time line if we want to pass a bill this year.”

After a strong prod from the White House to get a bill to the president’s desk this year, Senate Democratic aides said there has been a renewed push to avoid continuing health care reform debates next year. Aides said the White House has been explicit in its desire to get the process started in the Senate as soon as possible, and Reid met last week with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to game out ways to finish the Senate bill by the end of the year. The ball is squarely in the Senate’s court since the House passed its version on Saturday night, 220-215.

To assuage any nervous Democrats, Senate leaders today are expected to argue that a repeat of August’s raucous town halls is unlikely during the week of Thanksgiving, when most Americans are traveling or celebrating.

“If there was ever a time to leave a bill hanging out there, this would be it,” said the senior Senate Democratic aide.

Additionally, Democrats fully expect Republicans to make good on their threats to slow down debate on the measure. Reid hopes to use next week to overcome two of the most time-consuming hurdles: breaking a filibuster on the question of whether the Senate should even take up the bill in the first place, and then, if successful, a GOP demand that the massive measure be read aloud.

Republicans acknowledged that they might deny Democrats a common Senatorial courtesy on the floor: waiving the reading of a bill. Large bills such as the health care reform measure can take days for Senate clerks to read aloud.

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