A number of outlets are reporting on "Plan B" for passing the health insurance reform bill should the worst happen in Massachusetts tomorrow. The basic outline is in the NYT today:
For the moment, at least, the preferred Plan B would be to try to persuade House Democrats to approve the health care bill that the Senate adopted on Christmas Eve, obviating the need for an additional Senate vote and sending the measure directly to President Obama for his signature, administration officials and Congressional aides said on Sunday.
House Democrats have expressed complaints about the Senate legislation, and Congressional leaders and top White House officials, including Mr. Obama, worked last week to negotiate various compromises....
Aides said that the Democrats could move forward with the Senate-passed bill and then push through a raft of changes during the upcoming federal budget process.
Today Biden gave a hint that the White House wouldn't stand in the way of reconciliation. That pronouncement sure would have saved everybody a lot of headaches months ago when the ConservaDems and Lieberman started lobbing their obstructionism.
But there's a bit of a problem in that "pushing through a raft of changes" argument given the history of how this bill has gone down. We've heard that one before, more than once. Remember "we'll fix it in conference"? And there's this: the majority of House members think that major elements of the Senate bill stink, and they would be correct. For now, the Times reports, a "House Democratic aide said the House view of the Senate bill had not changed. 'We are working toward a compromise bill,' the aide said." Getting to 218 is going to be hard if Coakley loses--the Blue Dogs will run screaming for the hills. Without many of the compromises that have been worked out over past few weeks, there are plenty of progressives that would have swallow pretty hard--and trust that they won't get screwed again--to vote for this.
The compromises they've been working on are critical, not just for the excise tax fix negotiated last week, but for a number of reasons, from the lack of affordability to the preservation of the anti-trust exemption to the lack of a national structure to oversee the regulations to the vast swath of plans that won't even be subject to the regulations.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly ruled out a House vote on the Senate's version, and privately, officials have raised concerns about asking the rank and file to vote on legislation containing provisions that might prove problematic in the midterm elections.
As an example, the Senate-passed measure exempts self-insured insurance plans from many of the steps Democrats say are essential to curb insurance industry abuses. By one estimate, as many as 100 million individuals are covered under such plans....
Additionally, House Democrats in last week's talks pushed for additional subsidies for lower-income individuals and families who would be required to buy insurance under the measure that cleared the Senate. Several Democrats familiar with the talks said Obama had agreed with this point of view, and changes had been made accordingly.
Over at TPM, Brian Beutler says the heart of the deal is the excise tax, and "the House might still pull through, if House members are promised that the deal they agreed to last week will be passed separately--and quickly--through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process." What happens to all the other elements they've been negotiating? Should they just give up on those improvements to the bill?
Should the House agree to this, they should make it conditional--the fixes in reconciliation go beyond just the excise tax and the public option be included. There have been a lot of promises made and broken in this process. The House needs to be very certain that the promises will be kept this time if this is the path they choose.