Determined or Delusional? House Leadership Sounds Optimistic on HCR

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In the hours and minutes before Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, House Democratic leadership sounded resilient, even optimistic notes about the possibility of passing health care reform anyhow. But that puts them at odds with their rank and file members, particularly progressives, who, based on press reports and interviews conducted as returns were coming in, but before the race was called, now have a hard time seeing an endgame.

A number of progressives say that they still can not vote to pass the Senate bill in the House, even though that would wrap up the reform project once and for all. But with at least one Democratic member of the Senate pre-emptively saying there should be no more Senate votes on health care before Brown is seated, that increasingly appears to be their only avenue. The question is, is that road blocked?

“If it comes down to that Senate bill or nothing, I think we’re going to end up with nothing, because I don’t hear a lot of support on our side for that bill,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA). “I’ve lost my faith in anything happening quickly that requires Senate action.

“If she loses, it’s over,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said this evening in New York.

Two high-profile progressives–Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)–said the only way they could sign on to the Senate bill is if it was accompanied immediately, or even preceded by, a separate bill, making a number of major preemptive changes to what they regard as an inferior package.“It would have to be so quick that they happen at the same time,” Weiner said. “We’re in full whistling past the graveyard mode in there…. They’re talking as if, like, what our deal is, what our negotiations are with the White House. Yeah, I mean if the last line is ‘pigs fly out ass’ or something like that…. We’ve gotta recognize we have an entirely different scenario tomorrow.”

“You should do the other stuff first and then pass the Senate bill,” Nadler told me. “I don’t see how I could vote for the Senate bill,” otherwise.

That puts them at great odds with Democratic leadership who say they will still enact reform.

“I don’t think you can find a member in here, prior to or after, who supports the Senate bill,” said Rep. John Larson, the fourth ranking Democrat in the House, after a meeting of the caucus tonight. But, he asked rhetorically, “did any of them tell you that they were opposed to health care and health care reform?”

“The reports of its death, as Mark Twain would say, have been exaggerated,” Larson added. “We’re going to move forward, and we’re going to pass health care reform.”

This afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said much the same. “Whatever happens in Massachusetts, we have to do that,” she said. “And whatever happens in Massachusetts we will have quality affordable health care for all Americans, and it will be soon.”

Some conservative Democrats are echoing their progressive counterparts.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), co-chair of the Blue Dog Caucus, said that the “chances would diminish significantly for achieving health care reform this year.”

But others seemed significantly less rattled.

“I think Massachusetts is a unique case because they already have their own health care system,” Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) told reporters. “You could…make the case, I think persuasively, that they do like their health care plan so therefore it wasn’t an issue and they looked at other things when they made their decision.”

“The climate’s about the same as it was when we took the vote on the House bill,” said Rep. Allen Boyd (D-FL).

But all of that probably comes as little solace for members of leadership who, if they don’t want reform to flame out, will have to come up with a fix. Quick.

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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