News & Events

Democrats ready to go it alone on health bill

Leaning toward reconciliation, Obama aide says

By Anne E. Kornblut, Washington Post  |  March 1, 2010

WASHINGTON – Raising the prospect of a “simple up-or-down vote’’ on the health care bill, White House adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle said yesterday she thinks Democrats will secure enough yes votes and signaled that the administration could be moving toward trying to pass the bill along party lines.

President Obama is planning to tell Democrats his preferred strategy this week. After letting the effort play out in Congress for many months, he recently stepped in to lead it. He issued his own proposal, held a bipartisan summit, and is preparing to direct the next legislative steps.

Increasingly, the White House appears to favor having the House pass a version of the measure that cleared the Senate with 60 votes in December. The Senate would then pass changes to the bill to satisfy some demands of House Democrats. That Senate vote would take place under a parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation, which requires 51 votes rather than 60.

It remains unclear whether Democrats have enough votes within their ranks for this strategy to work. At the same time, it is only one option the president is considering, a senior White House official said yesterday.

Still, DeParle suggested Obama could endorse that option in the next few days. “Health care reform has already passed both the House and the Senate with not only a majority in the Senate but a simple majority. And we’re not talking about changing any rules here,’’ DeParle, the director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.’’

She added: “All the president is talking about is: Do we need to address this problem, and does it make sense to have a simple up-or-down vote on whether or not we want to fix these problems?’’

Republicans oppose the 10-year, $1 trillion package under consideration and have demanded that the administration scrap the bill and start over. Without any Republicans on board, Democrats must persuade their most vulnerable lawmakers to support legislation that could be used against them in November’s midterm elections.

“I believe that we will have the votes to pass this in Congress,’’ DeParle said. Pressed on whether the votes are in hand, she replied: “The president will have more to say about that later this week, and he’s working with the Congress on how best to address that.’’

As Democrats fanned out on television to bolster their party’s prospects for passing health care legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said it will require “courage’’ from members of her party.

“Why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress,’’ she said on ABC’s “This Week.’’ “We’re here to do the job for the American people, to get them results that give them not only health security but economic security, because the health issue is an economic issue for America’s families.’’

Representative Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, countered on “Meet the Press’’ that if Democrats push the bill through on party lines, they will “lose their majority in Congress in November.’’

In addition to Obama’s comments this week, Senate and House Democratic leaders are scheduled to meet to discuss the next steps. The House majority leader, Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, said votes could happen within the month.

Without GOP support, Obama’s only chance of emerging with a victory may be to bypass the bipartisanship he promoted during his televised seven-hour health care summit Thursday.

Although DeParle was optimistic that the president would have the votes he needs to pass the bill, none of its legislative advocates who spoke yesterday indicated that those votes were in hand.

“I think we will get to that point where we will have the votes,’’ said Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and a member of the Senate Democratic leadership. “I believe that we will pass health care reform this spring.’’

Pelosi’s comments yesterday seemed to acknowledge the widely held view that Democrats will lose House seats this fall, maybe a lot. They now control the chamber, 255 to 178, with two vacancies. Pelosi stopped well short of suggesting Democrats could lose their majority, but she called on members of her party to make a bold move on health care with no prospects of GOP help.

“Time is up,’’ she said. “We really have to go forth.’’

When the Senate passed the Obama-backed health care bill in December by 60 votes, every Republican voted against that bill. In January, however, a Republican Senate victory by Scott Brown in Massachusetts left Democrats one vote shy of the number necessary to overcome GOP filibusters.

Exactly what the legislation would look like remained a matter of negotiation within Democratic ranks.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.