Democrats Move Closer to 'Fast Track' for Obama Health Care Plan

WASHINGTON -- Democrats moved one step closer Wednesday to using a controversial budget procedure to speed passage of President Obama's health care legislation.

House Democrats went on record again in favor of advancing the legislation while allowing only limited debate, which would hobble the ability of Republicans to wrest concessions on one of Obama's top domestic priorities.

By a 227-196 vote, the House affirmed Democrats' plans to move health care legislation under rules that block Republicans in the Senate from being able to slow progress of the legislation -- or even stop it, through a filibuster.

The vote came as senior House and Senate Democrats negotiated the issue in private talks on the 2010 budget. Republicans are passionately against the idea of putting health care on a "fast track," saying it is too important and too complicated to be rushed through Congress under rules permitting just 20 hours of Senate debate.

But the White House is insisting on having the fast-track process -- known as "reconciliation" under the arcane rules governing the congressional budget process -- available to them, though it claims a preference is for a bipartisan measure.

As a practical matter, passing health care measures under fast-track procedures would give Democrats far more control over the details of the legislation. It would reduce the influence of not only Republicans but also conservative Senate Democrats.

But it also would provoke howls of outrage from Republicans claiming that filibuster-proof reconciliation legislation is not intended to be used to pass sweeping measures such as Obama's health care overhaul, which they argue would drastically increase the size of government and the taxes needed to pay for it. It likely would mean that Republicans would abandon the health care effort and engage in scorched-earth tactics against it.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., warned that Democrats were preparing to use fast-track legislation "to jam through a government takeover of health care."

Republicans have a sympathetic ear among influential Senate Democrats like Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

But Democrats say the Republican outrage is misplaced given the GOP's use of fast-track procedures to pass President George W. Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cut bills.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.