Mixed Messages: Dems Differ On Timing Of Final Health Care Vote

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As soon as the Senate passes its health care bill tomorrow, members will race to get out of town, and begin a long overdue recess. At some point after they return, though, they’ll have to hold…yet more health care votes!

The House and Senate bills will be merged in a negotiating process that will begin shortly after tomorrow’s passage, so that each chamber can vote on an identical piece of legislation. Originally, party leaders wanted to wrap things up before President Obama’s State of the Union address at the end of January. But right now, some Democrats, including Democrats within the White House, differ on when that final vote will take place.

On the Hill, it’s no different.

“We’re going to get this done,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who will partake in neogtiations, “and I predict we’ll get it done before the end of January.”

“Now a lot of work is going to be done between now and then,” Harkin went on.

Our staffs are already working with House staff…we always call it clearing the underbrush, and that’s already been going on. So by the time we get to maybe right after New Years, we’ll have a nice list of items we’re in genuine disagreement on and we’ll have to start thinking about that.

But the Senate’s chief vote counter, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), says a pre-State of the Union end-date may be a stretch.

“I’m not sure it is [likely], because, I mean, let’s be very honest about this: we need a break. We need a break to get home to our families, to repair some relationships with our spouses, and to relax and recharge and come back. And I think we’ll have a much more positive outcome after that break, but it does take time away in January and it may mean that this takes a little longer.”

Obviously, Democrats have a tremendous political incentive to wrap things up before Obama’s speech, so there may be a bit of expectations setting going on here, but at the same time, there is an element of unpredictability to the legislative process that Democrats simply have to prepare for.

For instance, Republicans could possibly delay things if they refuse to appoint their own negotiators to the conference committee. According to Harkin, “they can filibuster that, as you know, and we’d need 60 votes again. I suppose we could get that but it wouldn’t be until after we come back in January.”

So: who knows!

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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