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Reconciliation for Health Care Gaining Steam

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said House and Senate leaders are moving rapidly to try to salvage a health care reform bill that no longer has the votes for final passage in the Senate.The stunning upset victory of Republican Scott Brown in a Massachusetts special Senate election Tuesday forced both chambers to rethink how to move forward on the measure, considering Republicans — soon to be 41 strong — are now in a position to block the bill from passing in the Senate. Democrats had a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.Baucus said leaders were “trying to find a way to move very quickly and to basically satisfy the concerns of both the Senate and the House.” He added, “We’ve got to figure out, you know, how we put the two pieces together, by two pieces I mean the House and the Senate approaches and we’re working on that right now. We’ll find a way.”Baucus and House leaders indicated that using complex budget reconciliation rules might be the preferred method to get the bill across the finish line. Reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered and require only a simple majority, or 51 votes, to pass the Senate.“Reconciliation, I’m guessing at this point, will be part of the solution,” Baucus said.However, it was unclear how leaders might use it. One scenario that has been floated is having the House pass the Senate version without amending it and then both chambers passing a reconciliation measure. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would likely have to guarantee that the Senate could pass such a second bill through reconciliation before such a deal would be granted.Another proposal that would take much longer and require both chambers to dramatically reduce the scope of the package would be to pass a negotiated bill through both chambers using those strict rules. The bill would have to be scaled back because reconciliation requires that every provision have a budgetary impact. That would mean Democrats would have a hard time pushing through a number of insurance reforms, such as the elimination of discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), for his part, hinted strongly at passing reform through reconciliation, which he has long advocated.“It’s not dead by any means,” Clyburn said in an appearance with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on CNBC. “I have always said that the magic number on health care reform is 50, not 60,” Clyburn said. “I do believe that we will have a health care reform bill and we will have one that the American people will be proud of.”Clyburn said that Massachusetts already has near-universal health care because of reform that passed several years ago. In Massachusetts, “Ninety-eight percent now have health insurance and don’t want to pay for the other 49 states,” Clyburn said.Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, insisted that Democrats will find a path forward.“We're meeting with our Members as Harry [Reid] is meeting with his and then we'll finish our negotiation,” she said.There was little to no support in the Senate for the notion of trying to pass a compromise between the House and Senate before Brown is sworn in. Until he is, Democrats will continue to have 60 votes, by virtue of temporary appointee Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.).

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