Time for Plan B
Summit stalemate has Dems looking at alternatives
The highly publicized bipartisan healthcare summit did little to soothe a widening partisan rift on Capitol Hill last week, leaving Democratic lawmakers seeking alternative plans for health reform legislation and Republicans playing defense.
President Barack Obama is expected to announce midweek a revised plan on how to proceed. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said during a news briefing the president would take the “issues they agreed on (at the summit) and add them into a proposal going forward.” While some differences might be impossible to bridge, others, such as provisions on defensive medicine, selling insurance across state lines, and tighter control over fraud and abuse in federal programs, could gain traction.
As it stands, the House and Senate have passed bills that are similar in substance, but further apart on ideology. Congressional leaders have been in a holding pattern on how to meld the two since the loss of a crucial Senate seat in Massachusetts long held by Democrats.
At the same time, Republican leaders again said the process needs to start anew. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who from day one has opposed the Democratic-written bill, said the general public has aligned against the size and scope of the package.
“I don’t think public opinion of this magnitude, where people have really paid attention—have been dialed into this issue— they’re against it,” McConnell said just minutes after the summit ended.
There are a number of ways Democratic leaders can unstick the process. One would have the House out-and-out pass the bill the Senate passed back in December with the promise that a package of “fix-its” would ride shotgun in a separate bill. That second bill would then go back to the Senate for a vote under reconciliation, a legislative maneuver that effectively allows it to pass on a simple majority vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sketched out how that scenario might work. Pelosi said House Democrats first need to see the actual substance of a bill and then get assurances that the Senate could pass it on a majority vote. Pelosi added that much of the House’s concerns were allayed by the proposal that Obama laid out before the reform summit. “That’s a big step forward,” she said, adding that the meeting “took us farther down the path.”
But it’s still unclear if House Democrats can pass such a measure. Rep. Raul Grijalva
Grijalva: “There has to be a public presence.”