House Braces For Coakley Loss: Are They Ready For Health Care Concession?

Are rank-and-file members of the House ready to swallow a bitter pill and pass the Senate version of health care reform if Democrat Martha Coakley loses tonight?

As we’ve been reporting all week, leadership is faced with two basic options: Plan A of keeping up negotiations to merge the House and Senate bill and somehow rush a final bill through regardless of the even tougher political environment they’d be facing come sunrise or Plan B of passing the Senate’s bill unchanged and dealing with the differences in another bill down the line.

Leadership sources have insisted to us for days that no such Plan B talks are happening, and the White House won’t publicly entertain questions about health care concession plans should Republican Scott Brown win tonight. Some sources tell us that if such a contingency plan is being developed, it’s happening between President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to avoid leaks to the press before the election result is known.

But the sentiment among senators who just barely got to 60 votes last month and privately within the Obama White House – which has weathered blows for months on the delay – is that it may be now or never.Administration officials think there is an argument to be made for Plan B since Congress has gotten this far and the bills are 90 percent the same.

In a telling detail, the White House tonight emailed reporters several blog entries (including this one by TPM’s Josh Marshall) that favorably suggested the House pass the Senate bill.

House aides told us the White House seems to be pushing Plan B but that members aren’t readying for such a vote. The aides also say members won’t go for it, and if it’s true they aren’t prepared for the possibility, Wednesday could be a cold-water wake-up call.

House sources also told us Plan B would seem to scrap the weeks of intense negotiations leaders, staff and even the president have engaged in to make the bills better.

In public statements, leaders suggested they will find a way to get their compromise bill passed.

“Whatever happens in Massachusetts, we have to do that. And whatever happens in Massachusetts we will have quality affordable health care for all Americans, and it will be soon,” Pelosi said tonight before huddling with Democratic members for a planned caucus meeting.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today the Senate bill is “clearly better than nothing.”

“I want us to do everything we can to make it better, just as we did before this happened. I don’t know what’s going to happen in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), chairman of the Rules Committee.

But it won’t be easy to keep rank-and-file members, especially conservative Democrats, in line with what would be a tough loss in a blue state.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) said “chances would diminish significantly for achieving health care reform this year” if Coakley loses, according to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.

Additional reporting by Brian Beutler.

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