C-Ya! Senate Shrugs Off House Health Care Woes

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The fate of health care reform rests in the hands of House Democrats, and increasingly it appears as if moving ahead with a comprehensive bill is too heavy a lift for them. But the party extends beyond the House of Representatives, and yet it increasingly appears as if the Democrats’ brethren in the upper chamber have hung them out to dry. And complicating matters slightly is that it’s not clear whether it’s dawned on House members–many of whom are still pinning their hopes on the Senate–that the other body has moved on.

The preferred way forward for unions and the reform campaign Health Care for America Now (not to mention the preferred solution of many members) is for the House to pass the Senate bill along with a separate package making what they see as a variety of necessary changes to it. (Given the math in the Senate, many of those changes would have to be passed via the filibuster proof budget-reconciliation process.) But the House isn’t willing to take anything for granted. And for the promise of a fix to be worth the paper it’s printed on, members will want some assurance from the Senate (among others) that the Senate will be willing to act. With just about every Democrat in the Senate saying they’ve moved on to other, newer priorities, it’s safe to say they’re not getting that.Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters that using budget reconciliation to pass a fix bill “is one of the things we need to look at with the change in circumstances,” but added that “no decisions have been made.”

Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), who would likely take the lead on moving such a package through the Senate offered no promises either.

“If the House passed the Senate bill, could reconciliation, that process, be used to fix things that might be improved upon? Yes,” Conrad told reporters yesterday. “Would I support it? I can’t know that without knowing what would be included in the package.”

Then there’s the separate matter of party camaraderie: Are senators invested in nudging the House to finish the job? Yesterday, I asked Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) whether there was any concerted effort on the part of leading Senate Democrats to help House members get a hold of their nerve. In so many words, he said “no.”

“We haven’t done that,” Durbin said. “We haven’t been assigned House members. I happen to live with a couple of them so we talk about it late at night [and] we’re trying to find out how they feel about it.”

Leadership has also foreclosed on the idea of taking up a full reform bill again–so for now, at least, the House is on its own on Capitol Hill.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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