Senior Senate Dems: Healthcare fate lies with House

For now at least, the survival of healthcare reform is in the hands of House Democrats, two members of the Senate Democratic leadership said Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) convened a meeting with his entire leadership team Wednesday morning to regroup in the wake of losing their crucial 60th vote for healthcare reform Tuesday night when Scott Brown (R) won a special election in Massachusetts.

The House could simply pass the Senate bill and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature and Democrats could move on to other issues. "We are, at this point, we’ll be looking to see what the mood of the House is and what they want to do," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee. Reid was unavailable for comment after the meeting. "There’s no willingness to abandon ship on healthcare," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT
"I would be very satisfied if the House passed what the Senate did and then we can work on those areas that need to be strengthened or fixed," said Stabenow. "Those of us who worked very hard on the Senate bill believe that this is a good bill. It’s not perfect; neither is the House bill. But the reality is, this would be a major step forward for lowering costs for families, small businesses [and] strengthening Medicare."

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the secretary of the Democratic caucus, agreed that the ball is in the House's court. Asked whether it was up to the lower chamber to act, Murray simply said, "I think so," adding, "It's within their caucus. I'm not going to tell them."

Early indications, however, suggest that rank-and-file House Democrats have little interest in this approach.

Further efforts to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate healthcare bills would be fruitless given that a revised bill could not attract 60 votes, Stabenow said. "I think at this point, given the new senator from Massachusetts’s position, I think that that would be tough to do," Stabenow said. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders from both chambers made strides last week hashing out a final version of the bill but passing legislation based on those tentative agreements appears to be off the table.

The two chambers could also use the procedural tactic known as reconciliation, which allows bills to pass the Senate with just 51 votes, to pass a second healthcare bill that would modify the Senate-passed bill to appease liberals in the House.