Pelosi: ‘We are very, very close’

PELOSI: ‘WE ARE VERY, VERY CLOSE’…. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted a conference call yesterday to discuss the status of health care reform, and seemed largely optimistic about the initiative’s chances. But she raised one major sticking point.

Speaking generally, Pelosi made several comments that suggested reform is anything but dead. “We are very, very close” to getting this done, she said, adding that “one way or another,” she intends to “find a way to get this done.” After a question that referred to health care reform being on the “back-burner,” Pelosi replied, “All the burners are running on this stove.”

Indeed, for the most part, the Speaker was unequivocal. The “path we’re on gives me confidence,” she said, adding, “Just because we reach a bump in the road doesn’t mean that we turn back. We will get the job done.” She also dismissed out of hand the notion that reform could be completed piecemeal, and used the word “comprehensive” repeatedly.

Pelosi even repeated her line from last week: “You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in.”

Sounds good, right? After all kinds of talk about the demise of reform, here was the House Speaker explaining, on the record, that she remains quite optimistic.

So, what’s the problem? Pelosi also suggested the House won’t do anything on health care reform until the Senate acts first to improve the legislation it passed in December.

“Our members will not support the Senate bill. Take that as a fact. […]

“Don’t even ask us to consider passing the Senate bill until the other legislation has passed both houses so that we’re sure that it has happened, and that we know that what we would be voting for would be as effected by a reconciliation bill or whatever parliamentary initiative they have at their disposal.”

Asked if she expects the Senate to go first, Pelosi said, “Yes.” After a lengthy pause, she added, “Yes.”

When a reporter noted that it may not be procedurally possible for the Senate to amend legislation that hasn’t become law yet, Pelosi rejected the premise and said the Senate could find a way. And it must, according to her argument, because the House refuses to move forward as things stand.

What this tells us, then, is that the Senate expects the House to pass health care reform, and then both chambers will approve improvements. The House expects the Senate to pass improvements first, and won’t move on health care until that happens. This is a recipe for failure — both chambers waiting for the other to do something, making it far more likely that nothing happens.

I’ve been pushing the line that congressional Democrats can/should realize what needs to be done, and not rely excessively on the White House. I still believe that, but it’s also becoming clearer to me that expecting lawmakers to figure this out on their own appears increasingly unrealistic — the House and Senate are at odds, they don’t seem to be getting anywhere, and without some presidential intervention, a way forward will likely never materialize.

The fate of reform, in other words, shouldn’t necessarily fall on the president’s shoulders, but it may anyway.

As for the calendar, Pelosi did not address specifics, but said she wants to get reform done “before too long.”