House Dems reject calls to break up healthcare reform

House Democratic leaders are, for the time being, rejecting calls from some of their rank-and-file members to scale back health reform.

In the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s ascension to the Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a number of House Democrats have been publicly calling for their leaders to abandon work on the ambitious healthcare bill that Democrats hoped to send to President Barack Obama before the end of the month.

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"I think that we would get a good policy out of a series of bills that were brought up over the next several months," Massachusetts Democratic Rep. William Delahunt said during a Wednesday morning appearance on MSNBC. "What I think we should do is have discrete votes on all of the issues."

"I am hopeful that some Republican senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of healthcare reform because I do not think that the country would be well-served by the healthcare status quo," House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said in a statement following Brown’s Tuesday victory over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate. "But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a healthcare bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened.

"If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate healthcare bills," Frank added. "But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate."

But as they scramble to find a way to save the legislation they’ve spent months painstakingly negotiating, House leaders are rejecting those calls, a leadership aide said Wednesday.

“That’s off the table at this point,” a Democratic leadership aide said of breaking up healthcare reform into smaller bills — such as a standalone ban on the denial of private health coverage for pre-existing conditions — and gradually chipping away at the myriad issues Democrats have identified as plaguing the healthcare system.

Leaders, though, have been hearing calls for such an approach from beyond the Massachusetts borders — where the reaction to Coakley’s loss seems to be reverberating the most intensely.

“It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to step back and say, look, we’re going to pivot to do a jobs thing. We’re going to try to include some healthcare pieces in it that help us improve the lot of those who — you know, some of the things that are easier to do in the context of a jobs and employment bill,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), one of the most outspoken advocates for a healthcare bill more liberal than the one approved by the House in November, said following a Tuesday evening meeting of the Democratic Caucus.


“At a certain point, you’ve got to recognize that, look, this method of moving forward isn’t working,” Weiner said. “Let’s find issues that we can move forward on. It’s not the end of the world.”

House leaders will meet privately Wednesday afternoon, then begin meeting with various groups within the caucus — including the Progressive Caucus and the conservative Blue Dog Coalition — to take members’ temperatures on the best way to forge ahead on the healthcare front.

Options leaders have been discussing, and that they want to again discuss with members of their caucus, include the use of reconciliation, a procedural tactic that would allow the Senate to pass with only 51 votes a second healthcare bill that would modify the Senate’s original bill enough to assuage the concerns of House liberals.

Despite continued pressure to do so, House leaders still say they cannot pass the Senate bill through the House without significant modifications, notably on the excise tax, and say they have taken that option off the table, as well.

Jeffrey Young contributed to this story.


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