Consensus on how to proceed with health reform legislation eluded congressional Democrats Wednesday, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with various factions of their party to gage what members would be willing to accept while leaders from both sides of the Capitol considered a way to pass a bill on a simple majority vote.
Democrats grapple with way forward
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, said that one path being considered would be to pare down some of the key provisions in a reform bill and pass it using a legislative procedure known as reconciliation.
Under such a move, the bill would only require 51 votes to pass in the Senate—a number that grew in importance earlier this week after Democrats lost a deciding 60th seat.
“We could fix this so that the largest part of it could go on 50 votes,” Slaughter said after emerging from an early evening meeting with House committee leaders. When asked if the move suggested using the reconciliation process, Slaughter said, “It suggests that exactly.”
The process, however, could prove as frustrating to lawmakers as it would limiting in its scope. Reconciliation is a budgetary process, meaning the Senate parliamentarian and not lawmakers would ultimately decide what can and cannot be included in a bill.
Meanwhile, progressive Democrats who met with Pelosi spelled out their wish list, which among other measures included a national health insurance exchange, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters.
Woolsey also seemed hopeful that a public option could resurface at some point, though it hasn't been broached as a viable coverage option for some time.
As the notion of taking up an unchanged Senate bill in the House lost its momentum, explanations on the options still available ranged from vague to confusing.
Woolsey also hinted that reconciliation could be used to approve a series of bills that would essentially fix, or “correct,” what House Democrats didn't like about the Senate's package.
Other members are more comfortable with an incremental approach, where specific portions of health reform would be addressed in five separate bills, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), told reporters. Walz said these individual measures would go through regular legislative channels instead of through reconciliation.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has cautioned that approving a series of smaller bills would be too difficult to execute.
House Democrats are expected to meet again this morning and several members said they expect more of a consensus to be hammered out.
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