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Democrats Begin To Settle On A Health Care Strategy

March 1, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Coming off a much-hyped health care summit, the Democratic plan for passing health care reform legislation is slowly coming into focus: first have the House pass the Senate bill (H.R.3590) then change it through reconciliation.

Politics-wise, one of the big takeaways from the summit was Obama’s explicit ownership of the the Democratic health care plan. As a response to Bill Clinton’s heavy-handed approach to the failed health care reform effort in the 1990s, Obama had opted to sit back and let Congress take the lead. After that approach too failed, Obama now looks like he is stepping into the fray by releasing his own health care plan and by his unambiguous advocacy of the Democratic heal care proposals at the summit.

Democrats in Congress, arguably the target audience of the summit, have taken notice.

Though some are painting a rather grim picture of the House’s ability to pass the Senate bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] said she is confident that she will find the votes. As as ace health care reporter Karen Tumulty reminds us, it’s not a good idea to bet against Pelosi – especially when she’s this determined.

More importantly, Rep. Steny Hoyer [D, MD-5], the number two House Democrat, finally admitted on Sunday that his chamber will have to make the first move on the reconciliation fix to change the Senate bill:

Whether we’re willing or not, we have to go first if we’re going to correct some of the things that the House disagrees with. Not correct—change, so we can reach agreement. The House will have to move first on some sort of corrections or reconciliation bill, which follows a process that the Republicans followed 16 out of the last 22 times it’s been done, for very major pieces, including their tax cuts, which were really more dollar value" than health care.

Also on Sunday, Pelosi said she expected to unveil the House’s list of changes “in a matter of days.”

And while Democrats settle on how to pass the bill, the Republicans have decided on a new strategy for attacking it.

Instead of criticizing the the substance of the bill, the Republicans took to the Sunday talk shows to attack how the Democrats want to pass it. For the most part, they are attacking the budget reconciliation process, which requires 51 votes to pass legislation instead of 60, as unprecedented and an example of the tyranny of the majority.

Sen. Lamar Alexander [R, TN] took things a step further and said the process would bring about the end of the Senate:

There are a lot of technical problems with it, which we could discuss. It would turn the Senate, it would really be the end of the Senate as a protector of minority rights, the place where you have to get consensus, instead of just a partisan majority.

But as I and many other have noted before, budget reconciliation has been used many times in the recent past – more often by Republicans – to pass a number of things like welfare reform, former President Bush’s tax cuts and a number of health care bills.

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