Federal Healthcare Update

January 21, 2010

Pardon Our Dust

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The results of Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat have thrown a curve in Democrats’ plan to pass a health care reform bill by breaking their 60-seat supermajority in the Senate.  Before Senator-elect Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley 52-47, there were several paths to passing the bill.  Now the options are narrowed so considerably that President Obama has signaled that he is open to abandoning the current measure and trying for a stripped-down bill with bipartisan support. In an interview yesterday, the President said that the core elements of that scaled back bill would include insurance reform, cost containment, and assisting small businesses in providing insurance for their employees.
With this tactic, Democrats would have the possibility of getting a moderate Republican to sign on to the bill, regaining 60 votes and winning bipartisan support for the first time. However, many liberal Democrats have already said that this is not a workable option, and that a scaled back bill would be a mistake.  Some Senators, including Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have called for the House to simply adopt the Senate bill and send it to the President, a possibility that House leaders have rebuffed.
Although some have called for the two houses to convene a Conference Committee immediately and rush a compromise health care bill through the Senate before Senator-elect Brown can be seated, Senate leaders have already said that they would not risk further angering the electorate with such a move.
The budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate, is also still a possibility. In this scenario, the House would pass the Senate bill with assurances that several negotiated provisions would be inserted into the budget on the Senate side, which would then act as an amendment to the bill passed by both the House and Senate.

All of these options present risks, but not passing a bill would be a political risk for the Obama administration, as the President acknowledged in his interview yesterday, saying “I have every interest in seeing a unified country solving big problems. That is something that is very much in my interest because if that happens, not only do I have a successful presidency, but more importantly the country is successful.”

Susan Collins (R-ME) said of the bill, “What I hope the White House will do is start from scratch and, instead of pushing this bill through the House, work with a bipartisan group of senators to achieve a consensus bill that would have widespread support.”