Hoyer, Reid move to finish healthcare reform legislation before the end of 2009

The House could be in session until nearly Christmas Eve to try to win final passage on a healthcare bill.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) outlined the new schedule on Wednesday, saying he is prepared to keep the House working until Dec. 22 in order to pass the keystone issue of President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

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Hoyer’s move follows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision late Tuesday night to file a motion that could allow the Senate to begin debate on healthcare next week.

The actions by Reid and Hoyer appear designed to meet a goal of sending a healthcare bill to Obama’s desk by the end of the year, though that task will be difficult given divisions among Democrats in both chambers. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Vice President Joe Biden and Obama himself have recently touted the year-end deadline.

Hoyer said the House would be in session for the first three weeks of December, but that could be extended to the week of Christmas.

“The House could also be in session on Monday, Dec. 21, and Tuesday, Dec. 22, if needed,” Hoyer said in a statement.

“As action on health insurance reform legislation moves to the Senate, the House is updating its schedule for November and December to reflect that, and to ensure there is time to complete our work on other important issues,” Hoyer said.

Late on Tuesday, Reid filed a motion to introduce the Senate healthcare bill on Monday, Nov. 16. Anticipating a Republican objection, the bill would be pushed onto the Senate calendar.

Reid’s action sets up a critical vote next week on a motion to proceed to the bill. Such a motion would require 60 votes to succeed — an important early test of the Democratic caucus’s unity on procedural votes.

It is uncertain whether several senators who caucus as Democrats, including Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), will support Reid on procedural motions that require 60 votes.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) have warned Democrats that they will target any senators who support procedural votes on the bill, and McConnell has indicated he’ll do everything possible to slow the healthcare bill’s movement.

The Senate’s healthcare bill is awaiting a cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, which senior Democratic aides expect by the end of this week. But Reid signaled Tuesday he may start the process before he has the CBO score.

The House passed its healthcare reform bill in a tight 220-215 vote late Saturday night, setting up the action in the Senate. But the way in which the bill was approved has exposed new fissures in the Democratic caucus over the hot-button issue of abortion.

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Hoyer, Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders lobbied their members furiously to win the vote, and were only successful after they consented to a vote on an amendment that strictly forbids subsidies from being used to pay for abortions.

Republicans joined 64 Democrats in supporting the amendment, and its inclusion provided the healthcare bill the necessary support to squeak through the House.

But abortion-rights supporters in the House now warn they will not back a conference report on healthcare if the abortion language is not removed. They say the language will prevent women who buy private insurance from being covered for abortions.

Interest groups have also weighed in, running pressure ads against lawmakers who voted for the abortion amendment. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched online ads Wednesday against Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the sponsor of the amendment.

Liberal interest groups have also weighed in to pressure Democratic senators who may not vote with their party on procedural motions.

The BlueAmerican Political Action Committee on Wednesday said it would air television ads calling on Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) to vote with Democrats on procedural healthcare votes.