Congress Faces Rocky Road on Health Care Bill

Now the hard part begins.


The House of Representatives returned to session Tuesday after a three-week holiday break. And Congressional Democratic leaders are now trying to blend House and Senate versions of the health care reform bill so they can send a unified product to President Obama for his signature.


It was challenging enough to lug the controversial legislation through both the House and Senate late last year. And by the barest of margins. But altering the legislation even slightly could spell doom for the package in either chamber.


When asked about how Congressional leaders would mix the bills together, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) responded "With great difficulty."


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called a late afternoon meeting with key labor leaders. The Speaker must walk a perilous tightrope to craft a merged bill that can pass both the House and Senate. But Pelosi must simultaneously not alienate key Democratic constituencies like labor groups.


"I love the House bill," said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union as he exited Pelosi's office. "We made very clear we like the House bill."


One of the key differences between the House and Senate bills are the implementation of "exchanges," where persons can negotiate some health care coverage with the federal government.


"Hopefully we'll have an exchange that looks very much like the one we have in the House," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).


Still, liberal and conservative Democrats remain dubious about altering the House bill too much.


"Compromises are always possible. It just depends on how you do them," said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).


But it remains to be seen when Congressional leaders can forge a final version of the legislation.


"There have been a lot of discussions. And no decisions," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).


Regardless, many in the House are suspect of how some argue that the House has to accept much of what the Senate approved, if the health care bill is to become law.


“It wasn’t that easy to get 218 (votes),” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), referring to the magic number necessary to approve bills in the House. “We keep hearing them squeal like pigs in the Senate that they had a tough time getting to 60. Well, it wasn’t exactly a picnic for us to get to 218.”