It's become conventional wisdom at this point that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can't accept any major changes the House might make to his health care bill, because he needs to retain the support of all 60 of his members. But what happens if Martha Coakley loses her Senate race, and that number drops to 59--one shy of the threshold needed to stop a filibuster? There may be an out. Technically.
For a bill to become law, the House and Senate have to pass identical versions of the same legislation. Because the Senate already passed a health care bill, if the House just adopted it word for word, the President could sign it, and health care reform would be done.
Senate aides are aware of this backdoor, though they caution that it would create major political problems. House Democrats aren't exactly big fans of the Senate language, and wouldn't take too kindly to the notion that they should scrap all the hard work they put into their own reform bill.
"There is not a snow balls chance in hell that the House will pass the Senate bill," one top Senate aide noted.
That may or may not be correct. Faced with a lost vote in the Senate, the pressure on the House to pass a bill at all costs would be enormous. But Democrats are clearly focused on succeeding without losing Coakley's vote. Probably a better use of their energy.
As I noted here, once the House passes a modified version of the Senate bill, the legislation has to return to the Senate for yet more votes, which the GOP will surely filibuster.
Frustrated House leaders are coming to terms with the fact that Reid's hands are tied: he can't afford to lose a single health-care vote within his caucus, and, thus, can't veer too far from the bill he passed last month. That means there are very few changes they can demand to the Senate reform package. But unless Coakley loses, they'll certainly be able to demand some.