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Senate Prepares to Pick Up Fight

Senate Democrats on Monday are set to pick up the battle over health care reform where the House left off, but the path forward remains uncertain as Republicans comb the reconciliation package for weaknesses and Democrats hunker down in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the bill.

“It will be important that we stay together so we can keep the bill strong,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. “We won’t want to erode the bill just because certain people from certain states might want to do something. So, we will to a certain extent have to work together on this.”

Countered National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas): “We’ll either bring down the whole bill, or we’ll punch big holes in it.”

Senate Democrats were still crafting their battle strategy over the weekend, but they said Sunday’s House approval of the $875 billion Senate-passed bill and a companion reconciliation legislation would be the crucial setup for the Senate debate. The two packages combine for a 10-year cost of $940 billion, according to preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

“Our plan is to ride the momentum of what we firmly believe will be a strong vote out of the House and use that to catapult us over what might be a bumpier road in the Senate, given all the parliamentary tools the other side has at its disposal,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.

A Democratic leadership aide said that much of the Conference’s final battle plan will depend on the outcome of discussions with the Senate Parliamentarian, who will be the lead arbiter of procedural challenges to the reconciliation bill.

Senate Democratic leaders remain unclear as to how some of those procedural issues will be addressed, and the fight over those arcane rules began this weekend. First, Senate Democrats asked Republicans to vet their procedural objections with the Parliamentarian on Friday, but the GOP declined to do so, said one source.

Then on Sunday, Republicans accused the Democrats of refusing to meet with the Parliamentarian over the weekend to sort out whether a one provision in particular would cause problems for the bill. Republicans then sent out a press release that purported to warn House Democrats of a potential “fatal” flaw win the bill.

Democrats countered that Republicans were simply trying one last maneuver to introduce doubt in the minds of nervous House Democrats before the Sunday night vote.

“It’s a cynical strategy, albeit a highly misleading one,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

During the week, Democrats said they expect to mainly be playing defense and trying to react to GOP attempts to amend the bill either by raising budget points of order or through amendments. “We’re going to be flexible and be prepared to do what we need to do,” the Democratic leadership aide said.

Arguably, the Republicans’ best shot at gumming up the works is to find a budget point of order against the bill. And despite Senate Democrats’ public assurances to House Democrats to the contrary, they privately are conceding that the GOP has a decent shot of finding something that will have to be axed from the bill.

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