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Democrats Weigh Contingency Plans

Under that scenario, the House could simply adopt the Senate bill, with the understanding that lawmakers could then move any changes through the reconciliation process to bring it closer to the House version. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), who has helped lead the House charge against the Senate bill’s financing mechanism, a tax on high-cost insurance plans, said he would keep an open mind about the dual-track approach — provided leaders could offer solid assurances that reconciliation would hew closely to the compromise the two chambers have already forged to scale back the tax. “It’s assuming that there really is a pretty solid scenario,” he said. “Everyone is going to be focused on how that reconciliation piece of it proceeds. I’m certainly open to what they can offer us if they can do it with some security.”

Senate Democratic aides said leaders in that chamber, meanwhile, were reluctant to put too much pressure on the House to pass their bill.

“They need to come to that conclusion on their own,” said one aide.

But in order for the House to agree to take up the Senate measure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would likely have to promise to force another bill through his chamber that would address House demands that taxes on those high-cost, or “Cadillac,” health care plans be reduced and that subsidies for people subjected to a new federal mandate on insurance coverage be increased. However, the language of the second bill would likely need to be agreed upon between the House and Senate before the House moved forward with passage of the first bill, a knowledgeable Senate Democratic aide speculated.

“House Members would want to see what the package would look like before they vote on it. I mean, I doubt they want to buy a pig in a poke,” the aide said. However, the aide cautioned that no decisions would be made until the results of the Massachusetts election were clear.

If a second health care bill dealing with the House’s concerns moved under budget reconciliation rules, Reid would only need a simple majority — or 51 votes — to prevail. That would mean that he could lose as many as nine Democrats and still pass the measure.

Reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered, but they are governed by strict rules that require every provision have a budgetary impact. Because of the rules requiring budget implications, Democrats have largely rejected the notion of trying to pass the entire health care bill under reconciliation.

For example, major insurance reforms, such as eliminating discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, would not be permitted in such a bill.

Similarly, House Member concerns about abortion and immigration language in the Senate bill would likely not be addressed in any reconciliation package.

Meanwhile, Health care negotiations between the House and Senate were idling Tuesday. Leaders have already sent the bulk of the bill to the CBO for an official cost estimate, and it was unclear when that review might be completed. But outstanding disagreements on abortion and immigration — which are unlikely to have significant costs associated with them — were on hold as Democrats waited breathlessly for the election results in Massachusetts.

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