Democrats will have votes for health bill, Obama aide says

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 1, 2010; A03

Raising the prospect of a "simple up-or-down vote" on health-care reform, White House adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle said on Sunday she thinks Democrats will secure enough ayes on the measure and signaled that the administration could be moving toward trying to pass it along party lines.

President Obama is planning to tell Democrats his preferred strategy this week. After letting the effort play out in Congress for many months, he recently stepped in to lead it. He issued his own proposal, held a bipartisan summit and is preparing to direct the next legislative steps.

Increasingly, the White House appears to favor having the House pass a version of the measure that cleared the Senate with 60 votes in December. The Senate would then pass changes to the bill to satisfy some demands of House Democrats. That Senate vote would take place under a parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation, which requires 51 votes rather than 60.

It remains unclear whether Democrats have enough votes within their ranks for this strategy to work. At the same time, it is only "one option" the president is considering, a senior White House official said Sunday.

Still, DeParle suggested Obama could endorse that option in the next few days. "Health-care reform has already passed both the House and the Senate with not only a majority in the Senate but a supermajority. And we're not talking about changing any rules here," DeParle, the director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." She added: "All the president is talking about is: Do we need to address this problem, and does it make sense to have a simple up-or-down vote on whether or not we want to fix these problems?"

Republicans oppose the 10-year, $1 trillion package under consideration, and have demanded that the administration scrap the bill and start over. Without any Republicans onboard, Democrats must persuade their most vulnerable lawmakers to support legislation that could be used against them in November's midterm elections.

"I believe that we will have the votes to pass this in Congress," DeParle said. Pressed on whether the votes are in hand, she replied: "The president will have more to say about that later this week, and he's working with the Congress on how best to address that."

As Democrats fanned out on television to bolster their party's prospects for passing health-care legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it will require "courage" from members of her party.

"Why are we here? We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress," she said on ABC's "This Week." "We're here to do the job for the American people; to get them results that give them not only health security but economic security, because the health issue is an economic issue for America's families."

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) countered on "Meet the Press" that if Democrats push the bill through on party lines, they will "lose their majority in Congress in November."

In addition to Obama's comments this week, Senate and House Democratic leaders are scheduled to meet to discuss the next steps. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said votes could happen within the month.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company