Published December 27, 2009
They aren't willing to say they'll roll over, but House Democrats on Sunday offered tacit acknowledgement of the narrow room for compromise Senate Democrats have on a massive health insurance overhaul that passed the Senate with no margin for error.
As lawmakers take a recess from the push and pull of Washington's hardscrabble politics -- perhaps getting a second wind ahead of the House-Senate conference to reconcile the two competing versions of health care -- several Democrats on Sunday sounded ready to give in if it means getting the trillion dollar, 10-year legislation into President Obama's hands as soon as possible.
"We're not going to rubber-stamp the Senate bill. On the other hand, we recognize the realities in the Senate," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told "Fox News Sunday."
That's what Senate Democrats need to hear. Having passed the Senate on a 60-39 vote, the minimum needed to overcome a filibuster, the Senate bill has substantial differences from the House version, which passed by the slightest of margins but with more room for arm-twisting.
"Well, I'm sure the conference will yield some changes, but the reality is, having served in the House and its leadership, I understand sometimes its frustrations with the Senate, but if we are going to have a final law, it will look a lot more like the Senate version than the House version," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Among the variations, the House version contains a government-run insurance option whereas the Senate does not have a so-called public option. Furthermore, the House has stronger language than the Senate to prevent government funds from going toward abortion services. Another variation is the way money is raised to pay for the bill -- the House imposes a surcharge on high-income earners while the Senate taxes those with high-value insurance policies. The House bill covers 36 million people while the Senate bill takes care of 31 million.
But Democratic lawmakers in both chambers say the two bills are about 90 percent alike, and insist the bills will drive down the deficit even though it cuts already indebted Medicare funds to pay for the new entitlement.
Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," House Democratic Whip James Clyburn suggested that the Senate bill does enough to provide the elements of the so-called public option.
"If we can come up with a process by which these three things can be done, then I'm all for it. Whether or not we label it a public option or not is of no consequence. What we want to do is get good, effective results from whatever we put in place," he said.
No Republicans voted for the Senate bill and only one helped pass the House bill. Republicans are hoping angry and vocal voters will dampen Democratic enthusiasm over the winter break, but haven't given up on the notion of legal challenges.
"Who files a suit or what happens if they pass it is one thing. But my hope now is as we reveal to the American people what's actually in this bill, what it will cost them, what it will do to our Medicare and health care system, that we'll get a few Democrats to stand up in the House that maybe didn't before and help us stop this thing," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
"I'm proud of a lot of the House members who fought hard against the original House version and now will have to be definitely involved in this conference," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "I think both of them are bad bills. I hope that something happens that we don't see either one come out of a conference, but I'm afraid we will."
Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican turned Democrat, said the bill could've been better if Republicans had participated in the process.
"If some of the Republicans would come forward with suggestions, offer a vote or two, or three or four, to take away the need to have every last one of the 60 Democrats, you'd have a much better bill in accordance with the tradition of the Congress, especially the Senate, on bipartisanship," Specter said, adding that Republicans are more interested in "plotting ways to beat President Obama in 2012."
Not true, said DeMint, who said he "never wanted to break the president. We just wanted to break his momentum as he took over more and more of our economy and created more and more of our debt."
DeMint added that Republicans because Democrats would not let anything stop "a government takeover of health care."