Pelosi launches two-track approach to salvage healthcare

House Democrats are readying a series of smaller “sidebar” healthcare provisions to introduce by mid-February even as they push for using reconciliation rules to move a broader healthcare package, according to leadership aides.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday described a two-track healthcare strategy, in which House Democrats will look to move a number of smaller measures that can gain widespread support as they try to pressure the Senate into adopting, through reconciliation, a package of House-made changes to the Senate healthcare bill.

Pelosi was light on specifics, but following her weekly press conference, one of her top aides said Democrats hope to have a number of incremental healthcare reform bills on the floor ahead of the Presidents Day recess, which is scheduled to begin on Friday, Feb. 12.

The Speaker’s rationale is that the differences between the House and Senate healthcare bills are far greater than even President Barack Obama has stated, and that the process for merging the two comprehensive bills could be prolonged and painful.

“Some of these sidebar issues are issues that are very important, but that can be done, that can move quickly, and that’s not about one thing over another, it’s about time,” Pelosi said.  

“Some things we can do on the side which may not fit into a bigger plan. That doesn’t mean that’s a substitute for doing comprehensive [healthcare reform]. It means we will move on many fronts, on any front we can.”

Using budget reconciliation rules to pass parts of the healthcare package would require only 51 votes in the Senate. But those rules can only be used to move provisions affecting the federal budget.

The Speaker said that reconciliation is still being discussed, but she sought to dismiss any notions — including from Obama — that fixing portions of the Senate bill to satisfy the House will be easy.

“I would not call them minor tweaks … It’s more serious than that,” she said. 

“We’re talking about the fact that our bills are about 70 percent the same. Perhaps 80. The president optimistically says 90. Maybe he knows something I don’t know about what will happen in the Senate.”

Republicans continued to argue that Democrats will only hurt themselves with moves to approve a larger healthcare measure.

"If Nancy Pelosi wants to spend the coming weeks and months discussing a budget-busting healthcare bill, then Democrats will have much more to worry about than a lost senate seat in Massachusetts,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

This story was updated at 1:17 p.m.