Feb. 8, 2016

Democrats Ready to Flex Majority Muscle

The games are over.

With President Barack Obama’s bipartisan health care summit now a thing of the past, House Democratic leaders are ready to play hardball and charge forward on reform in the way that they want to: by taking full advantage of their majority.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is talking in her clearest terms yet that Democrats will use reconciliation in the coming weeks to get around a Senate GOP filibuster to pass health care reform.

“What you call a complicated process is called a simple majority, and that’s what we’re asking the Senate to act upon,” Pelosi said Friday.

Mapping out the strategy, Pelosi said Democrats will be focused on first “freezing the design on the substance” of a final health care plan and then looking to Senators to see if they “accommodate the changes that the president has put forth” in his plan.

House Democratic leaders have reasons to be hopeful that their Caucus will embrace the $950 billion plan that Obama unveiled last week even though it is built on a Senate bill opposed by many House Democrats. Obama specifically tweaked the proposal to make it more palatable to House Democrats, namely by adding affordability provisions and dramatically scaling back an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans.

Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) predicted Friday that the changes were enough to get Democrats to rally behind some kind of comprehensive bill in the end.

“I think the Members will vote for it. I think Members understand the historic position they’re in,” said Miller, Pelosi’s closest House ally.

Miller defended the likely use of reconciliation procedures in the Senate to push through the final legislation. “The process by which it’s done won’t be long remembered. It will be passed by a majority vote in the House ... and it will be passed by a majority vote in the Senate.”

Ways and Means Committee member Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said the health care summit changed the tone on Capitol Hill by “giving us a little bit more spine” to finish the job on health care reform. He emphasized that Democrats have to get the job done by Easter, however, in order to prevent the debate from getting too close to midterm elections.

“Democrats ran on this. We have to do legislation to prove that we have the mettle to do it,” he said. “We’re at the point of no return.”

But new momentum in the Democratic leadership doesn’t necessarily translate to rank-and-filers, many of whom still have problems with the Senate bill and fears about getting stiffed in the process of moving a bill forward.

Liberals continue to insist on a government role in the final bill, whether it be a national exchange, an extended Medicare program or a public insurance option — none of which is in the Senate bill. The issue has been their No. 1 rallying point over the past year.

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