Democrats Thursday looked for a way forward on a health reform bill as colleagues in the House worried about abortion, other provisions and Senate passage of a reconciliation measure. The New York Times
: "Leaving a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, lawmakers said they had received few details about what would be in the legislation, on which they may be asked to vote in the next week or two." Lawmakers continue to wait for cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office on President Obama's proposal for a health overhaul. Wednesday, the CBO released cost estimates for the already-passed Senate bill that the House is considering passing. "In addition, lawmakers said, they were not given the text of the latest legislation drafted by House and Senate Democratic leaders and the White House to address widespread concerns about the bill passed by the Senate in December." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the reconciliation bill, which Democrats hope to pass after passage of the Senate bill, would "reduce the Senate's tax on high-cost health insurance plans and increase subsidies to help low-income people buy health insurance." House lawmakers would then send it to the Senate for consideration, where it would need only a simple majority vote to pass (Pear, 3/11).
The Los Angeles Times
reports that the timeline has slipped a bit from the March 18 deadline that White House officials set for final passage. Pelosi "said she wanted to give her members 'at least one week' to review the package before they vote on it. 'It may take longer,' she said after House Democrats met behind closed doors for two hours with Nancy-Ann DeParle, head of the White House Office of Health Reform" (Levey and Hook, 3/12). The Associated Press
: House Democrats will meet again Friday. After meeting Democrats Thursday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, "'We made a lot of decisions. We're getting toward the end.' … Even with initial votes possible next week, few were claiming that Democrats had the votes in hand to prevail — especially in the House, where the roll call is expected to be a cliffhanger." House Democrats are worried that the Senate will not approve the reconciliation bill, which would leave them vulnerable to GOP campaign attacks (Fram, 3/12). The Washington Post
: Democrats are hopeful they can attach legislation that would expand federal aid for college students to health care reform. "Both proposals, stuck in Congress for nearly a year, are gaining new momentum as Democrats contemplate facing voters in November without having delivered on any of Obama's major policy objectives. Key Senate Democrats initially balked at combining the health-reform bill with a measure that overhauls the nation's student-loan program, but on Thursday they had warmed to the idea." Emanuel also supports pairing the two (Murray and Montgomery, 3/12). The Wall Street Journal
: The White House appears to have softened its deadline for passage of the health reform bill. "White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it wasn't a big deal if President Barack Obama's March 18 target for House action on the bill slipped a bit. … Mr. Obama met Thursday with members of the congressional black and Hispanic caucuses to try to build support." The Hispanic lawmakers are threatening to withhold their votes if illegal immigrants aren't allowed to buy health insurance in the exchanges using their own money, but abortion is most likely the biggest sticking point. "Winning over a bloc of anti-abortion Democrats could be the most significant hurdle to House passage." As many as 12 Democratic votes could be pegged to how the abortion funding issue is handled in the final measure (Adamy, 3/12). The Associated Press/USA Today
, in a separate story: Democratic leaders are planning to go ahead without the votes of anti-abortion lawmakers. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., "has been pushing for stricter provisions and says he and a dozen or so abortion opponents would vote against the health care bill if the Senate's version is retained. Leaders will try to peel off some of those lawmakers and make up for any remaining deficit with Democrats who opposed the health care legislation on the first round, when it passed 220-215. 'Many of the pro-life members are going to support passage of the health care bill,' [House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry] Waxman predicted" (3/11). Roll Call
: There are "cracks showing" in the anti-abortion coalition. "Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), a key ally of Stupak's, said Wednesday night that he is satisfied that the Senate's abortion language effectively prohibits federal funding of abortions and will probably vote for the bill. And Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said she would not easily vote for a bill that did not include Stupak's more restrictive language banning insurance coverage of abortion but stopped short of issuing an ultimatum" (Dennis and Newmyer, 3/11). Politico
: "House leaders now believe they can't change the abortion language in the Senate bill under the reconciliation process, which is only supposed to be used on budgetary matters. … Democratic leaders were nonetheless gearing up for a pair of committee hearings next week that will start the clock on a final, down-to-the-wire vote, which will require House Democrats to swallow their significant distaste for the Senate bill and to vote on faith that Senate leaders can muster the support to change it" (O'Connor, 3/11). The Hill
: "House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) said he would convene members of his panel ... to prepare for a markup, the final stop for the legislation before it is readied for the floor. The next stop would be the Rules Committee, where Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is mulling an arcane maneuver that would allow House Democrats to avoid actually voting on the Senate-passed bill" (Allen and Young, 3/11). CNN
reports the House Budget Committee is expected to vote Monday on the reconciliation bill (Desjardins, 3/12). Bloomberg
: "Obama is pushing Congress to act before lawmakers leave for a two-week recess on March 26. Pelosi said the vote 'is not something we are going to drag out'" (Litvan and Jensen, 3/12).