With President Barack Obama poised today to roll out his final strategy for passing health care reform, House and Senate Democrats are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their endgame, trying to make sure the stars align perfectly for what is likely their only shot at passing an overhaul this year.
We need to do everything right, one senior Senate Democratic aide said. Things have been plodding ahead, but the final decisions on an exact process, timing and substance still have to be made.
Indeed, Democrats cannot afford to make any missteps on their road to final passage for a health care bill, even as they press for passage before the Easter break that begins in a scant four weeks, aides acknowledged. The process they have tentatively agreed to involves three separate and difficult votes: House approval of the $871 billion Senate-passed bill, and House and Senate approval of a precooked budget reconciliation bill that addresses House complaints about the Senate measure.
Obamas speech today is intended to provide some momentum for that plan, given that he is set to outline his own proposal and how he wants Congress to pass it. White House officials said to expect the president to unveil a broad outline of his roughly $950 billion final blueprint.
But the president also faces one crucial task: instilling confidence in skeptical House Democrats that their initial support for the Senate bill the basis for his plan is a necessary means to enacting crucial reforms.
Obama also hinted in a Tuesday letter to Congressional leaders that his speech will reaffirm his commitment to a comprehensive plan and highlight specific GOP ideas that he is open to including in his final proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated the presidents newest bipartisan offerings would get serious consideration in the as-yet-unwritten reconciliation bill. Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass certain aspects of a health care overhaul with just 51 votes.
After the President lays out a path forward in greater detail tomorrow, we should focus on putting those ideas into action and delivering reform to our broken health system this year, Reid said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a major concession, signaling Tuesday that she may be ready to accept the Senates language on two issues that have divided her Caucus immigration and abortion in the name of getting an overhaul passed. Neither issue can be addressed under a reconciliation bill because stringent rules governing such bills require provisions to have a direct budgetary impact.
This is not an immigration bill. It is not an abortion bill. It is a bill about affordable health care for all Americans, she said.
However, leaders in both chambers are still negotiating what would be included in a reconciliation package and cannot secure the votes for any deal until they reach an agreement. Democratic leaders were mum Tuesday when they emerged from a bicameral leadership meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and health care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle.
It was a very good discussion, Emanuel said afterward. We worked through a number of issues as it relates to the legislation.
Pelosi said she remains focused on finalizing the substance of a bill and figuring out what the Senate can pass. From there, House Democratic leaders will take that substance ... to our Members, she said.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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