How And When? Health Care Reform Crawls Through Congress

February 3, 2010 3:59 a.m.

For the first time since the Massachusetts special election last month, Democratic leaders in Congress have signaled an agreement in principle on a way to finally pass health care reform, despite the loss of their filibuster-breaking 60th vote in the Senate. However, though both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appear to have settled on an overall framework, they have backed off a timeline for reaching a workable solution as they resolve some outstanding procedural issues.

Emerging from a meeting with Pelosi yesterday, Reid acknowledged that the most likely scenario for passing reform is what has come to be known as Plan B: Congress would preemptively pass an amending bill through the 51-vote budget reconciliation process, allowing the House to adopt the Senate bill word for word.

“That seems like a strong possibility,” Reid said.

That puts him in agreement with House leaders, who say they can’t pass the Senate bill until the reconciliation process is completely wrapped up.“Don’t even ask us to consider passing the Senate bill until the other legislation has passed both houses so that we’re sure that it has happened, and that we know that what we would be voting for would be as effected by a reconciliation bill or whatever parliamentary initiative they have at their disposal,” Pelosi said yesterday.

That leaves unresolved two major questions: When and how? Last week, both House and Senate leaders said they believed they’d have answers for anxious reformers by the end of this week. But yesterday, they backed away from that self-imposed deadline.

“We hope to be in a position in the near future–don’t put me down as to days or number of weeks–to move forward health care,” Reid said at his press conference yesterday afternoon.

Senate aides also say there’s a potential procedural problem: The Senate rules may not allow the upper chamber to pass a bill which amends legislation that hasn’t been signed into law. Yesterday, Reid suggested that the House’s powerful Rules Committee gives the lower chamber more leeway to push through legislation than the Senate has. But Pelosi yesterday insisted that objection doesn’t meet muster.

“It is not an obstacle to this path forward,” she said.

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