By Jared Allen and Mike Soraghan - 06/18/09 10:55 AM EDT
A bipartisan group of at least four House members is demanding that special budget rules allowing Democrats to pass healthcare legislation by a simple-majority vote be taken off the table.
Democratic leaders have signaled they are open to using reconciliation to force President Obama’s signature domestic issue through the Senate along party lines if need be.
"The process is creaking under its own weight,” said Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.
But it's not clear how much clout the group has to fight reconciliation. Besides Cooper, only one other Democrat stood at the press conference, Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama. Aides said two more Democratic House members were to attend, but had scheduling conflicts.
Two Republican centrists, Reps. Mike Castle of Delaware and JoAnn Emerson of Missouri, also attended.
But the group says the rules of Congress are on their side. Cooper said that the reconciliation instructions say that the proposal must reduce the deficit each year. Cost projections for Democratic health care plans this year have generally been $1 trillion or more.
The debate over healthcare has become entangled in new questions over cost projections and has begun to break down along party lines, even in the Senate where there was the most hope of forming a bipartisan consensus.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is marking up legislation this week, but that has devolved into party-line sniping. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to follow — although the date is in question after Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said this week he wants to cut $600 billion from his bill, which has yet to be made public.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) are scheduled to release the House Democrats' main health care outline on Friday.
This story was updated at 3:46 p.m.