View Full Version : U.S. Issues The fallout: Democrats rethinking health care bill

01-19-2010, 09:55 PM
Republican Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts Tuesday threatened to derail any hopes of passing a health reform bill this year, as the White House and Democratic leaders faced growing resistance from rank-and-file members to pressing ahead with a bill following the Bay State backlash.

Democratic leaders and the White House insisted ahead of the vote they aren’t preparing to desert health care. They admit they’ll have to come up with a new strategy to win passage, but said they didn’t want to allow one Senate race to take them off-course on the president’s top legislative item for the year.

But several House members said Tuesday night that they had no interest in pursuing the most likely scenario for moving ahead with a bill — approving the already-passed Senate version of health reform in the House – and some said President Barack Obama should step back and start over.

In fact, early signs of split emerged as the polls closed in Massachusetts – between leaders like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who said “the Senate bill is better than nothing,” and individual members who didn’t want to swallow the Senate’s version of health reform whole.

And with the winning majority for a health reform bill in the House so thin, almost any defections at this point would be fatal to reform’s prospects.

"I've maintained for months now that incremental reform in the health care package would make much more sense from my perspective," said California Rep. Jim Costa, one of the last Democrats to vote "yes" on the House bill.

He said he'd like to see Obama tell voters that "we may have been overreaching" and then push for a scaled-back bill that focuses on things more people can agree on, like insurance reforms. He said it's not just a question of the House bill versus the Senate bill. "For me, it's broader than that," Costa said.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), one of the leading advocates for health reform in the House, said, "I don't think it would be the worst thing to take a step back and say we are going to pivot to do a jobs thing" and include elements of health care reform in it.

"If there isn't any recognition that we got the message and we are trying to recalibrate and do things differently, we are not only going to risk looking ignorant but arrogant,” he said.

House leaders left a Tuesday night caucus meeting and immediately retired to the speaker's office to plot the path forward. Staff weren't allowed in.

Hoyer said Democrats are "still working on trying to get an agreement."

"Psychologically, does Massachusetts have an impact? Certainly, it does. But the objective hasn't changed. We're going to continue to work on achieving that objective," Hoyer told POLITICO.

Pages123»Back to top

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31693.html#ixzz0d7aGK868

Brown’s victory means that Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority in the Senate, and Democrats are increasingly reluctant to try to ram through a revised reform package in the roughly two weeks before he takes office.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said it "would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Brown is seated."

Still, Democrats are floating the idea of a two-step process – passing the Senate bill in the House in step one, then passing a second “clean-up” bill to fix the things in the Senate bill that House members don’t like. The Senate then would have to pass the clean-up bill in a reconciliation process – meaning it would only need 51 votes.

But the deep resistance to the Senate bill among many House members shows that even this legislative tactic would be difficult to pull off.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) was skeptical of the two-step scenario. “I've heard that theory but I don't know if it works," he said. "The problem is this we are spending almost a trillion dollars and folks are telling me I should vote yes and we will fix it later. You wouldn't buy a car for a trillion dollars and say yeah, it doesn't run but we will fix it later."

Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) said, "We were fully expecting to go some kind of conference committee and work out those differences [with the Senate]. And there are still differences to work out. I cannot imagine, from one person, one member from Indiana, that this House would accept the Senate bill as is."

It wasn’t just the House. Two moderate senators, Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, separately raised concerns Tuesday about the direction of the Democrats’ agenda, with Bayh saying he feared the Democrats’ policy plans had gone too far to the left.

“It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he told ABC News. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected.”

As the early results poured in, House leaders and the three chairmen with jurisdiction over the bill walked their colleagues through changes that had been negotiated with the White House and Senate – but barely mentioning the political meltdown in the Massachusetts.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told colleagues that the three parties were close to an agreement on adding a new Medicare tax on unearned income for individuals who make more than $200,000 and couples who earn more than $250,000, people present said. On a normal night, that would amount to big news.

On Tuesday, it was a sidebar to the drama resolving itself in Massachusetts.

Weiner said the tone of the caucus meeting was "whistling past the graveyard."

After the meeting, House Democratic caucus chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) said of the bill: "The reports of its death – as Mark Twain would say - have been exaggerated."

He downplayed the negative comments from members, saying they routinely leave caucus meetings and declare it dead. "Every time we come out of a caucus, everyone pronounces the bill dead or it's not going to pass," Larson said.

Earlier Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that House Democrats are still "right on course" with the health care reform bill, regardless of what happens in the Massachusetts special election.

But by Tuesday night, in the caucus meeting, Pelosi said, "Whatever happens tonight, we can't ignore it," according to the notes of someone present.

House Republican Leader John Boehner fired back at Pelosi’s “right on course” comment, with spokesman Michael Steel saying, “Regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, it’s clear that jamming this government takeover of health care through Congress will set off a political firestorm. The American people are screaming, ‘stop’ at the top of their lungs, and out-of-touch Democratic leaders ignore them at their peril.”

Despite the deep misgivings of rank-and-file members, a decision to abandon health care reform would contradict every major rationale offered by the president and congressional Democrats as to why they pushed so hard for it over the last year.

Before Tuesday, Obama and congressional Democrats were actually on the verge of passing a major overhaul of the health care system that has eluded generations of presidents and lawmakers. Giving up on it now might appear reasonable from a political standpoint in light of a Massachusetts defeat, but some Democrats fear they will look back at some point and regret deserting the bill given how far along they actually were.

The move would also run counter to the reputed ethos of the Obama White House, which regards itself as taking the long view and not reacting to every development. Plus, Obama and Democrats have argued they cannot solve the nation’s budgetary problems before dealing with health care. Those policy challenges will still be present after the polls close in Massachusetts, Democrats argue.

"For a lot of us it is our second round, and the most important thing is we know we will never get this economy under any kind of control until we get health care costs under control," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said. "We're not doing this to aggravate people."

From a political standpoint, the White House will argue that Democrats own the bill either way. Most members of Congress have already for voted for the legislation, so they should take this last push to get it over the finish line and have a product to tout at the end -- rather than failure.

But under the most-discussed scenario, the White House and Senate leaders would need to convince a skeptical House to trust them – that the Senate will approve the same set of changes as part of a reconciliation bill. With relations between the House and Senate strained, at best, it will be a tough lift, aides said.

But if the alternative is no bill at all, Democrats may have little choice.


01-19-2010, 09:56 PM
Think Obamacare is dead at this point, and will be for awhile.

01-19-2010, 09:57 PM
So it is happening already. The Brown win is forcing some sanity back into some House members. Some are even saying go back and start over.

Saul Good
01-19-2010, 09:58 PM
Already whistling a different tune. Maybe they aren't as dumb as they seem. Maybe.

The Mad Crapper
01-19-2010, 10:06 PM

Pitt Gorilla
01-19-2010, 11:11 PM

Taco John
01-20-2010, 01:18 AM
How would you like the job of Majority Whip right about now?

01-20-2010, 01:26 AM
How would you like the job of Majority Whip right about now?

Nothing like listening to sister Nancy b****, huh? :D