The White House and congressional Democrats are calling for what they are framing as an “up-or-down vote” on a health care overhaul bill, signaling that they are preparing to pass it through the controversial reconciliation process.
President Obama is expected to announce how he wants to proceed on the bill this week, but Democrats on Capitol Hill are already trying to rally around using reconciliation, which would eliminate the chance for a Republican filibuster.
Republicans have already accused Democrats of using the procedural tool to pass a major social-policy change, which they say was never how it was intended.
But Democrats say the health bill deserves a vote in Congress. Without using reconciliation, Republicans would likely use their 41 votes - which they acquired in January’s special election of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown - to filibuster the bill, preventing it from getting a vote.
“The health care reform has already passed both the House and the Senate, with not only a majority in the Senate but a supermajority,” White House Office for Health Reform director Nancy Ann DeParle said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We’re not talking about changing any rules here. All the president is talking about is, do we need to address this problem, and does it make sense to have a simple up-or-down vote on whether or not we want to fix these problems,” she said.
While bills have passed both the House and Senate already, the bills differ considerably, and each chamber needs to vote again on how to merge the bills before sending anything to the president’s desk.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on House Democrats to put aside any concern about their own re-election and support the health bill.
“Why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We’re here to do the job for the American people, to get them results that gives them not only health security, but economic security, because the health issue is an economic issue for - for America’s families.”
A series of polls have found that the public has grown frustrated with the yearlong, deeply partisan debate over how to pass a health bill. While specific aspects of the Democrats’ plans - such as insurance industry reforms - are popular, the overall bill is not.
“Well, first of all, our members - every one of them - wants health care. I think everybody wants affordable health care for all Americans,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “They know that this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. And many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill.”
In order to use reconciliation, the House would have to pass the Senate’s health bill. Then, each chamber would pass a second bill that would “fix” the first. The fix would pass the Senate through reconciliation.
It’s a complicated process that was designed to make it easier to reduce the deficit, so each provision would have to be approved by the Senate parliamentarian as being budget-related. If the parliamentarian says that a provision doesn’t qualify, it would be stripped from the legislation.
Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has repeatedly said the whole bill couldn’t pass through reconciliation but suggested Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it might work to pass repairs.
“The only possible role that I can see for reconciliation would be to make modest changes in the major package to improve affordability, to deal with what share of Medicaid expansion the federal government pays, those kinds of issues, which is the traditional role for reconciliation in health care,” the North Dakota Democrat said.
When asked whether Democrats have the votes in Congress, Mrs. DeParle said they will.
Democrats had talked about trying to pass the health bill in smaller pieces, but that option appears to have been pushed aside.
Mrs. Pelosi, in her weekly session with reporters Friday, dubbed it the “eensie, weensie spider” approach, which she said would be too small to address major problems in the nation’s health care system.
Mrs. DeParle also said Sunday that the “baby steps” approach wouldn’t work.
“They don’t solve the problem,” she said. “I think that’s the issue.”