- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2010

House Democrats on Thursday said they’re closing in on the votes needed to pass President Obama’s health care overhaul, as they try to muscle past obstacles such as controversial abortion language and difficult reconciliation rules.

A top House Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, predicted the House can pass the health care overhaul without the support of anti-abortion Democrats, dismissing the notion that stronger language is needed to prevent federal dollars from being used for abortions.

The House Budget Committee plans to start the reconciliation process Monday with a vote to pass a bill under the complicated rule structure, which allows the Senate to pass a bill with only 51 votes and circumvent a Republican filibuster.

The reconciliation bill, which is expected to be about 100 pages, would only serve to “repair” what the House doesn’t like about the Senate’s health care plan. The complicated process Democrats are starting also requires the House to pass the Senate’s bill.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a letter to the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, that he is pursuing reconciliation because the minority left him no other option.

“Republicans have resorted to extraordinary legislative maneuvers in an effort not to improve the bill, but to delay and kill it,” he said.

On the House side, Democrats spent Thursday morning with White House health care “czar” Nancy-Ann DeParle, reviewing what Mr. Obama wants in the reconciliation package. Rank-and-file Democrats said they have objections with the Senate plan, such as its lack of a public option and fewer health system payment reforms.

At stake is Mr. Obama’s chief legislative agenda item, a proposal that would extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans, which Democrats on Capitol Hill have been working on for well over a year.

Republicans say its a radical spike in taxes and regulations that will result in insurance premium increases and have promised to do all they can to stop it. The public has grown frustrated with the process as well, with polls showing that they support some of the bill’s provisions, but not the process.

The White House wants the process completed by March 18, but top Democrats on Capitol Hill say Easter is more likely. They are still writing the final bill and waiting on final cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that lawmakers will have at least one week to review the legislation before voting on it and, refusing to set a deadline, said, “we will take up the bill when we’re ready to take up the bill.”

House Democrats say they have to work around what was expected to be their most difficult challenge: navigating abortion-related language that has 12 Democrats threatening to vote against the bill.

Mr. Waxman, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said Thursday that strict reconciliation rules requiring every line of the bill to be related to the budget may not allow them to change the Senate’s abortion language and that they could work around the members.

Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, said he and 11 other supporters of the House bill will vote against the Senate plan unless strict restrictions are added to prevent what they say would allow for federal funding of the procedure. They could be a strong enough voting block to threaten final passage.

But Mr. Waxman questioned whether the 12 are firmly in the “no” column.

“There are a number of people who share his view who will support this bill,” Mr. Waxman said of Mr. Stupak’s strong position against abortion.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, doubts whether Mr. Stupak has the votes, either.

“They are not solid votes,” she said.

At least one of the 12 reiterated Thursday that he will not vote for the Senate bill unless the abortion restrictions are inserted.

“There’s no promise or guarantee I’m looking for,” said Rep. Daniel Lipinski, Illinois Democrat. “I’m looking for changes to the bill.”

Potentially adding another wrinkle to Democrats’ plans, a Senate Republican leadership aide said Thursday that the parliamentarian told them a reconciliation package could only pass the Senate once the original bill becomes law.

The ruling could stoke skepticism among House Democrats on whether the Senate can pass the reconciliation bill.

They worry that if they pass the Senate bill, which includes a tax on high-cost insurance plans and state-specific projects that critics say were included to sway votes, and the Senate can’t do reconciliation, they will be stuck with many of the controversial provisions becoming law.

“Even the most trusting member is skeptical of the Senate,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat.

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