Just moments after the party earned a major win on the House floor by steering legislation that strips health insurers of their exemption from antitrust laws, several Democrats declared they would vote against a healthcare reform bill unless major changes first occur.
“It's not a popular bill with members,” said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who last year successfully led a key bloc of Democrats to hold out on passing a bill until stronger abortion language was included.
The contrarian comments were made prior to today's summit meeting. But with both parties squabbling, few—if any—lawmakers and policy shapers say they expect a consensus to emerge.
Obama's reform proposal, released on Monday, remains the centerpiece of the meeting. Republican lawmakers have readied their own platform that places more emphasis on cost containment and less on expanding access to health insurance.
The president's proposal has proven contentious for House Democrats, who face the uncomfortable position of deciding whether to pass the bill or see their efforts to overhaul the healthcare system fail once again.
“I've told the White House, I'll see what the final language is,” Stupak said. “But if it's the Senate's proposal, it's a nonstarter. It's not going to go anywhere.
To be sure, abortion isn't the only sticking point among party members.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said he opposed a provision that would create a Medicare advisory commission, while other House members have voiced opposition to a tax on high-valued health plans, state-based health insurance exchanges and a number of targeted earmarks.
“I have no idea how we work through this muddle,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
Although House Democrats sounded increasingly leery, across the capitol in the Senate party members spent the last week surprisingly coalescing around a procedural move that would allow legislation to pass on a simple majority vote.
Senate leaders are likely to decide this week whether to use reconciliation to unstick the current bill. The move is contingent on the House passing the Senate's version of the bill, and then moving a smaller package of “fix-its,” possibly mirroring the president's plan, under reconciliation.
Previously, the more moderate wing of the party has been wary of using such a move. But since Democrats lost their ability earlier this year to break a filibuster, it has increasingly become the favored path forward for many lawmakers.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) warned that Republicans would likely use a series of procedural moves to effectively shut down the Senate for the balance of the year in retaliation if Democrats choose to use reconciliation.
“If the minority is just frustrating progress, that argues for taking steps to get the public's business done,” Bayh said. “At the same time, we're not going to get much done around here the rest of the year because the Republicans will just probably shut the place down.”
Bayh added: “But you could make an argument that they're doing that anyway.”
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