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Reid Looks to Shield Caucus on Health Vote

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, seen Tuesday in the Capitol, is eyeing procedural moves to begin health care debate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent his Members from ever having to vote on the House-passed health care reform bill, even for a routine procedural motion that could come up by the end of this week.

Instead, Reid may use a non-controversial House-passed tax bill — likely a popular measure that would extend a home- buyer tax credit to members of the armed forces — as the vehicle for opening debate on the Senate’s health care bill. He hopes to unveil the Senate’s health care measure to the rest of the Democratic Conference on Wednesday.

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Tuesday that Senate Democratic leaders want to avoid the “optics” of bringing up the House measure and would instead insert the Senate health care bill into a “shell” bill from the House. The Senate routinely brings up House bills and then immediately inserts its own text, and originally Reid had planned to bring up the House-passed measure to do just that.

Aides said voting on the tax bill, rather than a controversial House health care measure, could insulate Senate Democrats from accusations that they are endorsing the House version, which includes a controversial public insurance option and tax hikes. It also could make Republicans think twice about voting against a feel-good measure for the troops, Democrats argued.

One senior Senate Democratic aide said Republicans could “turn a bland, technical, procedural vote into a vote fraught with meaning, because then you could turn a vote for proceeding to the House bill into a vote for the [substance of the] House bill.” The Senate bill is also expected to include a public option, albeit one that states could opt out of.

But Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the use of a shell should not be seen as a criticism of the House measure, explaining Reid felt a vote on the tax bill would put Republicans in an uncomfortable position.

“We thought this might add a nice little twist to the debate,” Manley said. He cautioned that Reid has not yet made a final decision on whether to move on the House tax bill or to the House health care bill.

Democratic aides noted that, regardless of the vehicle, Reid must still overcome a GOP-led filibuster of the motion to proceed to the bill and that the vote would still be seen as a vote for — or against — holding a health care debate in the Senate. Reid still hopes to bring up a bill this week. If he gets the 60 votes necessary to move forward, Reid would then offer the Senate measure as a substitute amendment, Baucus said.

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