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Senate Leaders Say They Are Committed to Passing Health Care

Following a stinging special election defeat in Massachusetts on Tuesday night, Senate Democratic leaders emerged from their regular leadership meeting Wednesday morning vowing to press ahead with health care reform, but said that the fate of the bill is in the House’s hands right now.“We are very committed to health care reform. It’s a question of how we do it,” Democratic Steering Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) said. “We have to look at the practical reality with the Republicans being able to block whatever happens with 41 votes.”The election Tuesday night of Republican state Sen. Scott Brown over Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley stunned Democrats and put the Democratic health care bill in jeopardy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had relied on the votes of all 60 Members of the Democratic Conference for passage, in order to secure the supermajority needed to bypass a filibuster. But that filibuster-proof number evaporated with Brown’s win. Brown becomes the 41st GOP Member.Before the election, House and Senate leaders had been trying to craft a compromise that could pass both chambers. But because Senate Democrats lost a crucial vote, the discussion has turned to whether the House might just take up and approve the more centrist, Senate-passed bill. If that were to happen, the Senate would be expected to try to push through changes to the bill demanded by House liberals, such as a weakened tax on high-cost, or “Cadillac,” health insurance plans.Stabenow noted, “We’re looking at various options right now. Obviously we’re going to continue to talk with the House and see what they can do and the White House.”Asked whether it was up to the House to salvage the health care bill now that Senate Republicans have the ability to filibuster any compromise measure, Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) said, “I think so. Yes.” But she indicated that Senate leaders were not trying to put too much pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying the decision is up to the House Democratic Caucus.

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