Chances for a health-care bill grew dimmer on Thursday, by most indications, but House Democrats may have found a way to force the Senate to work with them that would remove a key roadblock to passing the reform desired by President Obama.
Call it a “hold-plus-reconciliation” strategy.
The House could pass the Senate bill as is, then hold it in their chamber instead of sending it to the president so he could sign it into law. That bill, passed but not out of the House’s hands, would be the leverage to bring the Senate to the table.
Many House Democrats who dislike the Senate bill fear that the upper chamber would pay lip service to making improvements through reconciliation, only to back away from promises after the House passed the Senate bill.
“We don’t trust the Senate to do anything they say they’re going to do,” Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, told The Daily Caller.
The question is whether Congress can work on legislation that changes a bill that has not yet been signed into law.
While Democrats did not appear to have reached a conclusion on Thursday, parlimentarian experts on the House Republican side with decades of experience told The Daily Caller that it could be done.
Other than that ray of light, however, the way forward for Obama’s health-care reform grew dimmer, not brighter, on Thursday, the day after the president told Congress to “finish its work.”
The climate on Capitol Hill was tense, as members whose votes could go either way continued to come under enormous pressure from all sides.
Many of the House Democrats whose votes are in question have effectively hidden from reporters in recent days, avoiding areas in the Capitol where they know they will be pigeon-holed.
Obama called more than two dozen House Democrats up to the White House for meetings. Democrats who will be vulnerable in their elections this fall were targeted by robo-calls from the House Republican campaign committee, and a new poll showed widespread opposition to the bill in key congressional districts.
The White House said it wanted a bill through the House in two weeks, before the president leaves on March 18 for a week-long trip to southeast Asia. The fact that lawmakers have yet to even produce legislative language for the bill, and may not for a few days, is a significant challenge to the timetable.
Without legislative language, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cannot score the bill and give lawmakers a ruling on whether it reduces or increases the deficit, among other things. The CBO process will take at least several days.
Some initial reports said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders would have language by Friday, but staffers in Pelosi’s office knocked down that idea later in the day, saying they did not know when a bill would be drafted.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer appeared to give a different timeline than the White House in comments to the Associated Press, saying the House would like to pass a bill before leaving for Easter recess, which begins on March 29. He added that “the world doesn’t fall apart” if that deadline isn’t met.
In addition, a Republican lawmaker, Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia, announced Thursday that he will postpone his resignation from Monday until after the health-care vote. That increases the number of votes Pelosi will need to pass a bill from 216 to 217.
Pelosi only has 216 of the 220 yes votes she had in November.
There are two other enormous challenges to getting to 217 that may not be solved by a “hold-plus-reconciliation” strategy: the abortion language in the Senate bill, and a political environment that will make a yes vote toxic to many moderate Democrats.