Is It Game Over If The Senate Passes Health Care Reform? No.

December 17, 2009 6:25 a.m.

The Senate is still on track–barely–to pass a health care bill by Christmas. To pull that off, Democrats will need to speed through the next week without hitting any unexpected bumps in the road. And Republicans love to throw bumps into the road.

But this health care fight has made it abundantly clear: there’s never any rest for the weary. Even if Harry Reid does everything right, he’ll likely wake up the following Monday at the helm of a new project, and a new, short timeline. He’ll have to reach agreement with the House of Representatives on a final health care bill that doesn’t lose him a single vote.

Two key questions will determine whether that happens: 1). Will the final bill that emerges have moved too far to the left for the likes of conservative Democrats in the Senate? And 2). Will the lag time between passage of the Senate bill, and a vote on that final bill shake loose any Democrats, nervous about the ramifications of voting for a controversial, and increasingly unpopular package of reforms.

Though they can’t be amended, conference reports can be filibustered. And the conservative Democrats in the Senate are so entrenched in their positions that Reid can’t take their continued support for granted. Some of them are even demanding that certain provisions–most notably the public option–don’t come back to life when Reid and other Senate health care principals sit down with their counterparts in the House.The House hasn’t seen the legislation the Senate will be voting on. Reid hasn’t shared the expected final language with them.

“There are a whole lot of questions,” said Rep. Chris van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the DCCC. “They are still trying to figure it out on the Senate side.

“We then will be in dialogue with the Senate,” he added. “In the House we believe our bill is a strong bill. This is a long way from over we don’t have a final product yet.”

But legislators, and sources in both the House and Senate, say discussions have been ongoing behind the scenes for some time, at least on the issues that are more set in stone.

“People have been talking about that for a long time,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

So negotiators will have a head start, and the hope is to be ready to go with the bill by the time Congress returns from its belated recess.

But time will be of the essence. Democrats are already hoping the momentum behind this bill outweighs the nervousness vulnerable members feel about voting for the legislation, and a three week break could change the stakes.

On the Senate side, aides and members have had little time to focus on anything other than passing the bill. But on both sides of the Hill, aides are confident that if the Senate passes its bill next week, health care reform will be locked in. We’ll be on scene for every major development.

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