- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Top House Democrats on Tuesday pledged to pass a health care reform bill “soon,” regardless of the outcome of a Senate special election in Massachusetts that threatened to reverberate on Capitol Hill.

But with Republican Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts, they’re down one vote in the Senate and could be down another vote in the House. Rep. Ahn “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana, the only Republican to vote for the bill in November, won’t support it again if the House’s strict abortion restrictions are not preserved, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

“He would rather see some form of health reform done than not done,” said spokeswoman Princella Smith, “but he’s just not budging on the life issue.”

Health care negotiations continued on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with one eye on the Massachusetts race that left some Democrats nervous about how the contentious bill would affect their own re-election hopes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democratic negotiators would continue discussions and would rally to send a health care reform bill to the president’s desk “regardless of what happens in Massachusetts.”

“In spite of all the activity that I know you’re aware of in Massachusetts and the rest, we’re still on course resolving the differences between the House and the Senate bill,” she told reporters. “We’re right on course. We will have a health care reform bill, and it will be soon.”

Mr. Brown’s win erased Senate Democrats’ 60-seat filibuster-proof majority, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledged that the result “changes the political math.”

Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, who has been closely involved in the health care negotiations, said the fact that independent voters in Massachusetts were flocking to Mr. Brown should be a signal that voters don’t think the health care negotiations are being done right.

“We’ve got to recognize we’ve got an entirely different scenario tomorrow,” Mr. Weiner said, adding that Democrats were “struggling to do it with 60 votes in the Senate. I don’t see how with 59 it gets easier.”

One scenario is for the House to simply pass the Senate’s bill without changes, eliminating the need for another Senate vote. But doing so wouldn’t sit well with House Democrats who want a chance to change the Senate’s legislation.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland told reporters earlier Tuesday that, if Mr. Brown won, passing the Senate’s bill is “better than nothing.”

But House Republicans warned against parliamentary tricks to pass a health care measure in the face of clear and rising public opposition.

“It’s clear that jamming this government takeover of health care through Congress will set off a political firestorm,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “The American people are screaming ‘Stop’ at the top of their lungs, and out-of-touch Democratic leaders ignore them at their peril.”

And at least one moderate Democrat, Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, said Mr. Brown’s win should force the Democrats to declare a temporary halt in the drive to pass health care.

“I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated,” Mr. Webb said in a statement.

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