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Health Care Endgame In Congress Starts This Week

March 4, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Democrats are hoping that this week marks the beginning of the end of their long and tortured effort to pass a health care reform bill.

With the release of the White House health care plan, the health care summit and yesterday’s unambiguous endorsement of reconciliation, President Obama has taken charge of the health care debate. Now it’s up to Congress to end it.

Roll Call reports that the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are currently crafting a final reconciliation package to amend the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) and that they hope to submit it to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring by Friday.

The scoring should take about a week and once that’s finished, both House Speaker Pelosi [D, CA-8] and Senate Majority Leader Reid [D, NV] plan to spend the week of March 15 drumming up votes in both chambers to pass it. Senate Democrats also plan to use that week to vet the reconciliation package with the Senate parliamentarian to make sure it conforms to the Byrd Rule.

By the end of that week, Democrats hope the House will finally vote to pass the Senate health care bill. The Hill reports that the White House wants the House to vote by March 18 – just before the president leaves for a trip to Indonesia and Australia. A leaked Democratic memo has the House voting on March 19 at the latest.

Rounding up the votes in the House will not be an easy task, particularly for conservative Democrats. Time’s Karen Tumulty has Speaker Pelosi’s sales pitch:

She’ll argue that the newer version is smaller and less expensive. It also does not include a government-run public option for providing coverage to the uninsured — a provision of the original House measure that had been anathema to those who saw it as the leading edge of what they feared would be a government takeover of health care.

This vote could very well be a career-ender for some House Democrats. Tumulty highlights their difficult choice by pointing to the story of Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a House Democrat who lost her seat after casting the crucial final vote for Bill Clinton’s budget in 1993, which raised taxes:

Over the next few weeks, it will worth keeping an eye on Democrats from conservative districts with that in mind. This will be one of those rare votes that confronts them with a choice between political survival, or leaving a legacy when they are gone.

The White House is also pushing Democrats in both chambers to vote for the health care plan – with a particular focus on wavering Democrats who have already cast a vote for either the House (H.R.3962) or Senate health care bill. Politico has the administration’s pitch:

There are 59 senators and 216 House members who put themselves on the record in support of the Democratic plan for health care reform. And the way the White House and Democratic leaders see it, they have little choice but to vote for it again: Think John Kerry, and his immortal words about an Iraq war appropriations bill – that he was for it before he was against it.

The Democrats are operating on an extremely tight deadline with little room for delay. How they deal with Senate Republicans, who plan to stall the process by offering hundreds of amendments to the reconciliation fix, remains to be seen.

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