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Democrats Weigh Contingency Plans

Updated: 9:37 p.m.

Hours before Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts dealt a fatal blow to Senate Democrats’ 60-seat supermajority, Democratic Congressional leaders on Tuesday were already eyeing a fallback to salvage health care reform: requiring the House to adopt a Senate-passed version of the bill while moving future changes through a separate budget procedure.

Democratic leaders officially kept their options open during the day, sidestepping a detailed discussion of the path forward on health care at an afternoon huddle, according to leadership aides briefed on the Members-only session. Discussions were expected to get more serious today, as the reality of the Massachusetts defeat takes hold.

In the meantime, House Democratic top brass were projecting confidence that the reform drive would continue apace. “Whatever happens in Massachusetts, we will have quality, affordable health care for all Americans and it will be soon,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters after the leadership meeting.

Pelosi brushed off questions about the House not having the votes to pass a standalone Senate health care bill — an option that has been floated — and said the White House has not asked House Democratic leaders to prepare for that option in the event that Senate Democrats lose their filibuster-proof majority. House Democrats, particularly liberals, have bristled at that idea since many feel they have already made too many concessions in the House bill.

But leading Democrats insisted that talks to reconcile the competing House and Senate health care bills are continuing as planned and pointed to the fact that they have sent key revenue and investment provisions to the Congressional Budget Office for review.

“What we’re doing now is we’re continuing the same process we started last week,” Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) said. The Massachusetts election “will come and go. ... We still have to get this done so then we can talk to the Caucus about what we might or might not do, depending on what happens [in the election]. But I’m not going to engage in that speculation at this stage.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday morning likewise declined to tip leadership’s hand — or to foreclose on any options for pulling the beleaguered package across the finish line.

His playbook still includes pushing the measure through both chambers before Republican state Sen. Scott Brown gets seated, should he pull off a win. Hoyer confirmed it would be feasible for lawmakers to wrap up work on the measure in the next 15 days, before the deadline for the Massachusetts secretary of state to certify the election results. But he also appeared to leave open the possibility that the House could adopt the $871 billion Senate version, saying, “clearly, the Senate bill is better than nothing.”

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