White House, Democrats Prepare for Next Steps in Health Care Reform
On Friday, White House officials said President Obama will announce by the middle of this week the next step in passing health reform legislation, despite saying at last week's reform summit that he would allow up to six more weeks for negotiations with Republicans, Politico reports.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "The president will take into account what he heard" at the summit and at some point this week will make an announcement on the "way forward" for Democrats (Budoff Brown/O'Connor, Politico, 2/26).
In addition, White House aides said Obama this week will release a revised version of his own health reform proposal that will address some of the issues voiced by Republicans at the summit.
During his weekly Internet and radio radio address on Sunday, Obama reiterated his willingness to work with Republicans but also stated his resolve to pass reform by whatever means possible. He said that "we cannot lose the opportunity to meet this challenge. ... It is time for us to act" (Kornblut, Washington Post, 2/28).
Democrats Likely To Use Budget Reconciliation To Pass Reform
Barring an agreement with Republicans, Democrats likely will use budget reconciliation to pass an overhaul package, the Washington Post reports (Kornblut, Washington Post, 3/1).
Although criticized by Republicans, the strategy is garnering more support from Democrats and has been publicly endorsed by Obama as a viable option for reform. White House officials have confirmed that Obama's proposal was designed to be approved through budget reconciliation, which likely would result from a two-bill process.
The strategy would involve convincing House Democrats to pass the more moderate Senate reform bill unchanged and sending it directly to Obama for his signature.
The Senate then could pass a separate package of reform measures through the budget reconciliation process to pacify more liberal House Democrats, which requires only a simple majority for passage (California Healthline, 2/26).
According to the Post, it remains unclear whether Democrats have the votes for such a strategy (Washington Post, 3/1).
However, White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle on NBC's "Meet the Press" said Democrats "will have the votes to pass this in Congress" (Knowlton/Berger, New York Times, 2/28). She added that Obama is ready to use reconciliation and repeated the president's call for "an up or down vote" on reform legislation (Jackson, USA Today, 2/28).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on ABC's "This Week" said she is confident that Democrats have the votes to pass an overhaul, despite Democrats' concerns regarding the possible consequences of using reconciliation to circumvent bipartisanship. When prompted about Democrats' feelings on the upcoming midterm elections, she said, "Our members, every one of them, [want] health care," adding, "They know that this will take courage" (Pear, New York Times, 2/28).
Who's On First?
Democrats also must decide which chamber will act first, according to Politico.
On Friday, Pelosi said Democrats will use Obama's new proposal to develop legislative language for a bill that requires a "simple majority" in the Senate. Pelosi said, "Now, we'll put something together. [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)] will see what he can get the votes for, and then we'll go from there."However, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Friday said the House would need to act first on such a bill. "The general rule is, if there is reconciliation, you have to amend something that is passed," Baucus said, adding, "You can't amend nothing." However, he said health reform might be an exception. "We are in unchart[ed] water here," he said (Politico, 2/26). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.