Barrier To Health Care Vote Looks Poised To Fall

Democrats Target Likely Republican Blocking Strategy

April 25, 2009|By Noam Levey | Noam Levey,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -Potentially removing a major obstacle to the sweeping health care legislation sought by President Barack Obama, senior Democrats on Capitol Hill have reached broad agreement on a plan to prevent Republicans from blocking such legislation later this year, according to congressional officials.

The plan, which would use special provisions of the budget process to prevent a GOP filibuster in the Senate, threatens to sow outrage among GOP lawmakers and could complicate Democrats' efforts to push through the rest of their agenda.

But the president and his allies on Capitol Hill believe their decision to use the so-called budget reconciliation process will allow passage of the kind of health system overhaul that has eluded Washington policymakers for generations.

Obama reiterated that position Thursday night in a meeting with congressional leaders, according to officials in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Adding health care to the list of measures that will be treated as part of the budget resolution process would allow Democrats to pass health care legislation with 51 votes in the Senate instead of the 60-vote supermajority normally required to avoid a filibuster.

With at least 58 Democrats in the Senate, that would all but guarantee that Democrats would not need a single GOP vote in the House or the Senate.

Democrats hope to approve the budget resolution as early as next week, though the specifics of a new health care plan will take months to work out.

With final details of the strategy being talked through among members of the Senate majority, Democrats said there was broad agreement to invoke the budget reconciliation process to circumvent a filibuster if the two parties have not reached an agreement on a health care bill by September.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warned against the move to limit GOP power:

"Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as health care reform ... without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people. And it would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis."

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