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Democrats Eye Health Care Finish

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.

A senior House Democratic aide said party leaders aren’t whipping their Members until they have an actual bill on the table. Not that they haven’t already taken steps to bring more Democrats on board with Obama’s plan, whether it be by endorsing key provisions in his proposal or taking part in last week’s bipartisan health care summit.

“We’re not doing this in a vacuum here,” the aide said. “We’re creating an environment where people can get to ‘yes.’”

A cluster of largely retiring and freshman Democrats has emerged as a target of any future leadership whip effort; each voted “no” on the $1.2 trillion House bill that passed last fall and each is undecided on a final bill. They include Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.), John Tanner (Tenn.), Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Scott Murphy (N.Y.), Glenn Nye (Va.), Michael McMahon (N.Y.) and Rick Boucher (Va.).

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was optimistic Tuesday that some would flip their votes.

“Do I think there’s a possibility of some people changing? Yes I do,” he said. “That’s because it will be a different bill than either the House or the Senate bill. Hopefully, it takes the strengths of both. And I think that if that happens ... Members look at it somewhat differently.”

Nor are Senate Democratic leaders whipping their Members yet, according to Senators and knowledgeable aides. Even liberals who have been agitating for passage of health care reform said their votes should not be considered a given until they see what is in the reconciliation bill.

“I need to be confident that I know exactly what it is that I’m signing off on,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) shed little light on when a bill would be ready for Senators’ perusal.

“I think it’s going to be very soon,” he said Tuesday. But Durbin said he has not begun “specifically” whipping because “we don’t have the reconciliation bill in its entirety.”

But several Senators said that once they see the bill, they would be willing to pledge their support in order to assuage the fears of House Members who fear the Senate would not be able to pass the measure if the House acted first.

“The House rightly needs to feel confident that we will support the changes that have been agreed to. I’m confident that we will be able to do that,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said.

Emanuel indicated Tuesday that the House would have to pass the Senate bill before reconciliation measure could advance, saying that before that reconciliation package is brought up, “the bill would be dealt with in the House. The Senate bill would be dealt with.”

Still, Hoyer outlined a path forward for passing health care legislation that wouldn’t require House Democrats to first swallow a Senate plan many oppose.

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