Pelosi to seek Senate 'assurances' before House health vote

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday said she will need “certain assurances” from Senate Democrats before the House votes on healthcare reform as early as next week.

Pelosi did not say what those assurances would be, but acknowledged that extracting them would be necessary to counter lingering concerns from within her caucus that the Senate will not be able to pass a reconciliation bill.

“With reconciliation, a simple majority, a constitutional majority, I think members are much more comfortable with the fact that this reconciliation will happen,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. “Nonetheless, there are certain assurances that they want, and that we will get from [Senate Democrats] before I ask them to take the vote.”

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Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) made similar comments Thursday night after reports that the Senate parliamentarian had told Republican senators that the president would have to sign the Senate bill into law before the upper chamber could vote on a reconciliation package approved by the House.

“If this is true, it will mean that we have to find a device to receive absolute assurances from our Senate colleagues that they’ll be able to complete the reconciliation process in the Senate,” Van Hollen said.

When asked what that device would look like, Van Hollen said House leaders would “have to confer with our Senate colleagues until we find something satisfactory to our caucus."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) told reporters Thursday night that if asked, he would sign a letter promising the House that the Senate would pass the reconciliation bill.

“I wouldn’t think it’d be necessary because if we failed to do that after they passed it … they would never cooperate with us again, ever,” Rockefeller said. “I mean, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid probably wouldn’t speak for 25 years.”

Some Senate Democrats, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Ben Cardin (Md.) have met or talked with House Democrats in recent days to ease their concerns about the Senate taking action. Both Brown and Cardin are former House members with close ties to members of the chamber.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Friday that the parliamentarian’s ruling is not a settled matter.

House leaders and even some caucus members who have voiced skepticism that the Senate will act suggested their anxiety was easing.

“There’s been a tidal change, I think, in the last 72 hours or so,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who a day earlier said that “even the most trusting [House] member I think is skeptical of the Senate.”

“The very idea that we’re talking about kind of the endgame, tactical stuff, is as sign that, I think, there’s increasing confidence that we’re going to get this done,” Weiner said Friday.

“There’s a lot of work to do but I think people know that this is going to be done,” said Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.). “And they’re going to support it.”

Pelosi shared that sentiment.

“Any hesitation anybody might have about do they trust the Senate is offset by the great mission that they have [to provide] healthcare for all Americans,” she said. “It will take a little faith. But what we do always does.”

The Speaker also for the first time suggested that the House could be finished with its consideration of healthcare reform by next week, saying she was “hoping” that a House vote could occur before President Barack Obama’s scheduled March 21 departure for an overseas trip.

Pelosi was careful not to box herself in to laying down any deadline, but said she was “delighted that the president will be here for passage of the bill.”

“We’ll take whatever time is required for us to pass the legislation,” she said in response to questions about whether she was committing to passage by March 21.

“We stand ready to stay as long as it takes to pass the bill,” Pelosi said. “Members are eager to pass the bill, and it won’t be long before we’re making a real difference in the lives of American people.”