Waiting Game: The Dems Play For Time


Last Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts has left health care legislation in a precarious position. The prospects of passing a comprehensive bill are perhaps lower than at any time in the year-long fight over reform. And yet despite those odds, Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate are well aware that passing a comprehensive bill remains both a substantive and political imperative. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the options before them are both uncertain and complicated.

The long weekend brought little clarity and no breakthroughs for Democrats scrambling to reach a compromise that would allow the House to pass the Senate’s health care bill.

But as the days drag on, one reality becomes more and more certain: Until leaders reach an understanding that will allow the House to move ahead with a guarantee that the Senate bill will be amended, they will be unable to press rank and file members to support the end game they’re working toward.In the meantime, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senior Democrats must hear their members who are of differing mindsets on how to proceed. According to Rep. John Dingell, “What you’re seeing now is Chairman Mao’s ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’.” Hill sources tell TPMDC that leaders will continue to work toward a grand bargain: House and Senate leaders will huddle today at 4 p.m., House Democratic leadership will meet at 5 p.m. and then House leadership will hold a caucus meeting with rank-and-file members at 7 p.m.

The goal of the caucus meeting is to get a sense of where members stand after spending three days sounding out constituents. Nothing is certain; rank-and-file Democrats are all over the map with some members opposing comprehensive reform outright, and others resistant to passing the Senate bill and having lost faith that the Senate will be able to pass a separate bill.

A House leadership aide tells TPMDC that members will be presented with “three ways forward and that’s it. And none of them are really that good.”

One thing is clear, House leaders aren’t waiting for President Obama to signal his preference. The White House says Obama will discuss health care Wednesday in the State of the Union and insist he won’t walk away from the “fight,” but have yet to articulate a preferred way forward.

“I don’t think there are any deadlines right now, other than quickly,” a leadership aide told us. “They want to get past this.”

“The overwhelming majority of our caucus wants to pass a health care bill,” the aide said. “They can’t make a decision yet because they are still trying to work through the parliamentary procedures that are at our disposal.”

Though some Democrats are despairing that their months-long health care battle could be over before a victory, the Republicans are still fighting it as if it’s nearly a done deal.

“Do not be fooled. The Democrats’ disastrous plan to take away your health care is not dead in Congress,” the National Republican Congressional Committee wrote in a fundraising email.

The NRCC pitch was to raise money to educate voters about reconciliation, saying that is how Democrats will finally get a measure to the president’s desk.