Democrats hope to bypass a 2nd Senate vote on health care

  • Sun Jan 17th, 2010 10:08pm
  • News

By Charles Babington Associated Press

BOSTON — A panicky White House and Democratic allies scrambled Sunday for a plan to salvage their hard-fought health care package in case a Republican wins Tuesday’s Senate race in Massachusetts, which would enable the GOP to block further Senate action.

The likeliest scenario would require persuading House Democrats to accept a bill the Senate passed last month, despite their objections to several parts, eliminating the need for another vote in the Senate.

Aides worked frantically Sunday amid fears that Republican Scott Brown will defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat. A Brown win would give the GOP 41 Senate votes, enough to filibuster and block final passage of the House-Senate compromise on health care now being crafted.

House Democrats, especially liberals, viewed those compromises as vital because they view the Senate-passed version as doing too little to help working families. Under the Senate bill, 94 percent of Americans would be covered, compared with 96 precent in the House version. The House plan would increase taxes on millionaires while the Senate plan would tax so-called Cadillac, high-cost health insurance plans enjoyed by many corporate executives as well as some union members.

The House passed its own version last year, and members assumed it would be reconciled with the Senate bill and then sent back to both chambers for final approval.

A GOP win in Massachusetts on Tuesday would likely kill that plan because Republicans could block Senate action on the reconciled bill.

The newly discussed fallback would require House Democrats to swallow hard and approve the Senate-passed bill without changes. President Barack Obama could sign it into law without another Senate vote needed.

House leaders presumably would urge the Senate to make some changes later under a complex plan requiring only a simple majority, but it’s unclear whether that could happen.

House liberals already are bristling over changes the Senate forced upon them earlier, and some may conclude that no bill is better than the Senate bill. Meanwhile, some moderate Democrats may abandon the health bill altogether after seeing a Republican win Kennedy’s seat.

Top aides are weighing these options if Coakley loses::

  • Acting before Brown is sworn in. Congressional and White House negoatiators could try to reconcile the House and Senate bills quickly and pass them before Brown takes office.

    Seeking a Republican to cast the crucial 60th Senate vote. Some Democrats hope Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, might do this, but others seriously doubt it.

    Start over and pass a new, scaled back health bill using a complicated process that requires a simple majority of 51 Senate votes. Several Senate aides said this was unlikely.