Pelosi: House won't pass Senate bill to save health-care reform

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the message from Massachusetts voters isn't to drop health care, but to move forward with their considerations in mind.
By Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 22, 2010

As Democrats continued to grapple with the consequences of their loss in Massachusetts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday eliminated the most obvious avenue for completing health-care reform, saying the House will not embrace the version of the legislation already approved by the Senate.

"I don't think it's possible to pass the Senate bill in the House," Pelosi told reporters after meeting with her caucus. "I don't see the votes for it at this time."

Pelosi (D-Calif.) had struggled to sell the Senate legislation to reluctant Democrats since Tuesday, when Republican Scott Brown's upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate election cost Democrats their filibuster-proof Senate majority. House approval of the Senate package would have delivered the bill quickly to the president's desk, allowing Democrats to move on to job creation, their election year priority.

But many House members could not be persuaded to back the Senate version. They demanded that the Senate pass a separate bill amending the health-care legislation before they consent to support it.

Pelosi described her members as vehemently opposed to a provision that benefits only Nebraska's Medicaid system, language added to win the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). Also problematic are the federal subsidies the Senate would offer to uninsured individuals, which some House liberals view as insufficient, and the excise tax it would impose on high-value policies, which could hit union households.

"There are certain things the members simply cannot support," Pelosi said.

Senate Democrats agreed to many of the changes during negotiations this month to merge the chambers' respective bills. Brown's victory, however, leaves them unable to overcome a filibuster on their own.

The only other option under consideration is to write a new bill, possibly scaled back considerably to win Republican support, an undertaking that could consume months, with no guarantee of success.

Senior Democrats said they were still absorbing the implications of their election loss. "Obviously, you cannot just proceed as if nothing happened, because something very significant happened," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), a member of the Democratic leadership. "There's a strong view in both caucuses that we want to do some good things in health care, and the question is how -- how much and how quickly?"

Schumer added: "I don't think we want to do health care [for] the next three months. So there are trade-offs here, and that's what everyone's exploring."

Senate Democratic leaders met late Thursday to assess their prospects. "We are going to pass health-care reform," said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus as he left the meeting. "We're just talking about the pros and cons" of different approaches.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama thinks the best path is "giving this some time, by letting the dust settle, if you will, and looking for the best path forward."

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