On a conference call with progressive media journalists, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confidently predicted that the Congress would pass a comprehensive health care bill, and that both the House and Senate are on their way to doing so. However, she stressed on multiple occasions that “our members will not support the Senate bill” as it is, and that the changes through a reconciliation sidecar or whatever other means would have to be enacted first before a final vote on the whole package.
Pelosi did not seem swayed by the notion that there is somehow a Parliamentary issue with passing the amendments to the Senate bill before passing the bill itself. Responding to a question from TPMDC’s Brian Beutler about the Parliamentary hurdles, Pelosi said “No. That’s not an obstacle to this path forward.” She sees the sidecar passing both houses to ensure the changes before her members would agree to pass the base bill. “There’s a lot of pressure being put on the House, just pass the Senate bill, but that’s not going to happen.” She was clear that the Congress would “find a way to get this done.”
Pelosi argued that the House would be able to take up additional “free-standing” legislation that could not be altered in the reconciliation process (because it lacks a budgetary impact) while the Congress continued to work on a solution for comprehensive reform, and that the first of these free-standing bills would hit the House floor next week. The House will vote on legislation stripping the insurance industry of its anti-trust exemption, and Pelosi predicted passage of that bill. This would enable the Justice Department to investigate collusion, price-fixing or bid-rigging in the insurance industry in the various states.
Pelosi vowed other free-standing bills in the coming months, though not on things like banning coverage discrimination for pre-existing conditions or some other insurance regulations. “That would be making a statement, but not making a difference,” the Speaker said. “The insurance companies would price coverage out of anyone’s range. You might as well send a get-well card.”
Among the items that Pelosi did feel could be dealt with in reconciliation included greater affordability than in the Senate bill, equity for the states (she said “I don’t even think Senator Nelson supports the provision for Nebraska anymore”), fixing the excise tax on high-end insurance companies, and closing the “donut hole” in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage for seniors. She did not mention abortion in with those changes, and many have determined that changing those rules on abortion and the exchanges couldn’t be fixed through reconciliation. Which leads us back to whether the House could pass even an amended bill without the backing of the 8-10 Stupak Democrats. Pelosi was not asked about that in the conference call, but I am seeking clarification on that point.
While Pelosi was firm on the matter of the House not being able to pass the Senate bill, she was reluctant to tell the Senate what they should pass and what process they should use to make the necessary fixes to gain House support. Responding to The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim about the 100 House Democrats who have signed a letter urging the Senate to pass the public option as part of a reconciliation sidecar, Pelosi said that she would respect the negotiations that the House, Senate and White House were engaged in before Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts. “If the Senate does decide on reconciliation, it would be predicated on the areas of agreement decided before,” she said. She was skeptical that the Senate even contained 50 votes for the public option, despite repeated whip counts showing that to be the case. “They never passed it on the floor,” she said.
“The Senate will have to do what they can get done to move the process along,” she added. Asked if the White House shared the House’s enthusiasm for the public option, she said, “You’ll have to ask the White House that question. I’m going to let you be the judge.”
Nonetheless, Pelosi expressed confidence for getting a final bill done and insisted it wasn’t being put on the back burner. She joined Joe Biden, Harry Reid and even President Obama in saying that she was committed to passage of a comprehensive bill. The President said in a town hall in Nashua, NH today that health care was “on the five yard line, we’ve gone into overtime, we’re in the red zone, and we’ve got to punch it in.”
“These things are never easy,” Pelosi said. “The forces of the status quo are quite formidable… but we have the makings of real success.”
Emptywheel, who joined me on the conference call, has more.
UPDATE: Pelosi’s claim that the Senate doesn’t have the votes for a public option was contradicted today by Sen. Chuck Schumer, who said that “I have always believed that there are 51 votes for the public option.” Schumer, however, makes no promises of it coming up in the reconciliation process.