Democrats ponder health care tweaks to appease House

Reconciliation route would allow 51-vote majority

BACK IN THE FOLD 'If we do not pass it,' adviser David Plouffe said of health reform, 'the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway.' BACK IN THE FOLD
"If we do not pass it," adviser David Plouffe said of health reform, "the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway."
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Associated Press / January 26, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Seeking to salvage a health care overhaul, congressional leaders are considering a plan to pass the Senate bill with some changes to accommodate House Democrats, senior Democratic aides said yesterday.

Leaders will present the idea to the rank and file this week, but it is unclear whether they have enough votes to carry it out.

Last week’s victory by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts cost Democrats the 60th vote they need to maintain undisputed control of the Senate, jeopardizing the outcome of the health care bill just as President Obama had brokered a final deal on most of the major issues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said last week she does not have the votes to pass the Senate bill without changes. Democratic congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue is in flux, said the latest strategy involves using a special budget procedure to revise the Senate bill. The procedural route - known as reconciliation - would allow a majority of 51 senators to amend their bill to address some of the major substantive concerns raised by the House. That would circumvent the 60-vote majority needed to hold off Republican stall tactics.

Only changes that affect taxes and government spending would normally be allowed to pass with a majority of 51 senators. It is unclear that other major disputes - for example, how to restrict taxpayer funding for abortions - could be settled similarly.

The new strategy is politically risky. There is widespread support for Obama’s goals of expanding coverage to nearly all Americans while trying to slow costs. But polls show the public is deeply skeptical of the Democratic bills, and Republicans would accuse Democrats of ignoring voters’ wishes.

Obama initially voiced doubts last week that a comprehensive bill was still viable, but he now seems to be pushing for it. Asked yesterday if the president was backing away from his pursuit of major changes, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responded: “No.’’

“I think the president believes that the circumstances that led him to undertake greater security for people in their health care . . . existed last year, last week, and this week,’’ Gibbs said.

Among those arguing for a quick strike on health care is David Plouffe, the political adviser who helped elect Obama president and has just been summoned back by the White House to help in this year’s elections.

“I know that the short-term politics are bad,’’ Plouffe argued in a Washington Post op-ed. “But politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside.’’