House to Senate: We’re Ready On Health Care If You Are

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Leading Democrats in the House still insist that “all options are on the table” to move ahead on health care. But for the first time since last Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts, it’s clear that they’re coalescing around the most widely discussed option: moving ahead with the Senate bill once it’s clear that it will be changed through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process. Before they can move ahead, they need the Senate to make some real headway on their end of the bargain–and they’re not getting the signs they need.

“I thought we could get the votes in the House to pass the [Senate] bill if fixes to the Senate bill can be done,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) told reporters today.

“That would be a good option as far as I’m concerned,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), leader of the House progressives’ health care task force. “I could support it. Reconciliation. Majority rule.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA)–one of the key architect’s of the House health care bill–gives it the high sign. “I think reconciliation’s an appropriate way to proceed on reconciling the budget requirements,” he said. “It’s available to us. That was very specifically handled that way when we passed the budget.”

The hang up, they now say, is not on their end, but that they first need a high sign from the Senate that the two chambers can work in lockstep.“We have to wait to see what they think they can pass,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). “The sense they give us is that Reid doesn’t know from issue to issue what they can get votes for.”

But, he adds, it’s the only path forward that makes any real sense. “It’s the only practical way. Everyone’s in the same place–we want to get as much as we can get

However, though the idea has begun to resonate with House members in theory, they’re not willing to hang their hopes on the Senate, an institution they increasingly distrust. They want something concrete first, before they’ll move ahead with the Senate health care bill.

“The idea of doing the Senate bill and then doing the reconciliation on spec just to see what happens–I don’t think anyone really thinks that’s a good idea,” Weiner said. “I don’t know if the Senate literally has to move first, but at least they have to give us the high sign on what it is that they can do and can’t do. And we’re not getting much guidance from them, and we’re also not getting much guidance from the mothership about what the White House really wants, and what they’re prepared to push for, etc.”

And then there’s the X-Factor: What will President Obama say about the health care reform push in his State of the Union address tomorrow.

“A lot hangs on what the President says tomorrow,” said Rep. John Larson (D-CT)

Weiner echoed this sentiment. “He needs to give us some legislative marching orders here, because anything less than that is going to be seen as his acquiescence to us essentially walking away from it. And I think that would be regrettable from all sides.”

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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