WASHINGTON – On the eve of President Barack Obama’s planned health care summit, Democratic lawmakers are increasingly confident that they can resurrect their sweeping overhaul legislation after weeks of uncertainty about whether they could overcome the unified opposition of Republicans.
Democratic leaders, who have struggled to find a way to unify their own ranks, have settled on a strategy to avoid a Republican filibuster by convincing wary House Democrats to pass unchanged the health care bill approved by the Senate last year and send it directly to Obama for his signature.
At the same time, Democrats in the Senate are rallying behind the use of a bare-knuckle legislative procedure known as budget reconciliation to push through a separate package of health care measures to satisfy liberal Democrats in the House.
That package – which would require a simple majority and would not be subject to a GOP filibuster – combined with the overhaul bill, would result in a bundle of legislation close to the blueprint outlined by the president Monday.
“I’m more interested in the package than the process,” Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a former critic of using reconciliation, said Tuesday at the Capitol.
Senate leaders now believe they have the 51 votes necessary to pass the reconciliation package.
On the other side of the Democratic ideological spectrum, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus who has bitterly criticized the Senate health bill, expressed optimism that Democrats were nearing a breakthrough. “I think we are on our way,” she said.
Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., another liberal who criticized the Senate bill and the president’s leadership after Republican Scott Brown’s victory last month in the Massachusetts Senate race cost the Democrats their filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority, credited Obama with turning the tide by posting his blueprint on the Internet Monday.
“With his action yesterday, he shook us out of our post-Brown stupor and we’re back to legislating,” Weiner said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., still must find 218 votes to advance the Senate health care legislation, a task that has only grown harder with the death and departure of several Democratic lawmakers in recent days. Some House Democrats also continue to express concerns about details of the emerging legislative strategy.
Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, a conservative Democrat who has pushed for tough restrictions on federal funding for abortion, expressed concern Tuesday that the Obama’s proposal does not include sufficient safeguards.
Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are keeping up their criticism of the president’s plans.
“We just don’t care for this bill and neither do the American people,” said Virginia Rep Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican. “And it’s time for us, it’s time really for this president and the majority in this Congress to start listening to the American people.”
Obama has said he would review Republican suggestions to amend Democratic health care legislation at his planned summit Thursday. But few believe that a bipartisan compromise is likely.