Speaker Pelosi: We would do 'almost anything' to pass healthcare this year

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) laid out a scenario Thursday in which the massive overhaul of the nation's health system could pass by the end of the year.

If the Senate were to pass a bill by next Thursday, Dec. 17, she said, the House and Senate could conduct a conference committee during the next weekend and pass it before New Year's Day.

“I think we would do almost anything if it meant we would pass healthcare for all Americans before the Christmas holidays,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “It may be that we can’t, and it will have to be a New Year's present to the American people. But as soon as we can, we will.”

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Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday that the talk among members was that the bill could be added to the omnibus appropriations bill and passed during the holidays, even between Christmas and New Year's Day. He said that that line of thought included adding an increase in the nation's debt limit. It would be more difficult to vote against the spending bill, even with healthcare and more debt, because it includes funding for members' pet projects and money for the military.

“Then some could say, 'You're not supporting the troops,’” Stupak explained.

But the scenario Stupak recounted also included the House passing the Senate bill without changes, a process called "pingpong."

But Pelosi dismissed reports that the House would skip a conference committee and pass the Senate version of the bill as unlikely. Asked about the chances of that scenario unfolding, she said, "Not much.

“We would like to see a full conference,” she said.

The House version of the bill includes a “public health insurance option,” a government-run plan intended to compete with private plans and lower premiums. The Senate is moving away from that concept and is looking at a plan to allow people as young as 55 to obtain Medicare coverage.

Pelosi had said she wouldn’t be able to pass a bill through her chamber initially without such a public option, but throughout the months of House debates she carefully avoided any such definitive statements about final passage or a conference committee with the Senate. She had said she wanted a strong public option in the House bill to give her a stronger bargaining position with the Senate.

Even the House liberals who demanded a “robust” public option in the House version didn't draw a line in the sand for final passage.

"What I have said is ... we believe the public option is the best way to keep insurance companies honest and increase competition," Pelosi said. "If you have a better way, put it on the table."

Wrapped into discussions about the House schedule is the prospect that Pelosi might lead a congressional delegation to the Copenhagen summit on climate change. Pelosi has described climate change as her "flagship" issue and hopes to make the trip.

The official House calendar has the House working as late as Tuesday, Dec. 22. But Pelosi said Thursday the House is set to finish its work by Wednesday, Dec. 16. Finishing by then would allow her to travel to Copenhagen.

“It's a very important meeting,” Pelosi said. “I hope we'll be able to spend a few days there.”

This story was updated at 12:55 p.m. and 2:11 p.m.

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