Giving the House what it needs

GIVING THE HOUSE WHAT IT NEEDS…. There’s a legitimate side debate in the fight over health care reform about which institution should be doing more to help seal the deal. Reasonable observers can blame the House (it needs to pass the Senate bill), the Senate (it needs to agree to some key changes), and the White House (it needs to lead lawmakers to where they have to go).

But by any measure, the process would be smoother if more Senate Democrats were willing to step up and give the House what it needs to make reform a reality. To his credit, Sen. Arlen Specter (D) spoke at a Pennsylvania Progressive forum over the weekend and articulated a constructive way forward.

“I believe we ought to pass comprehensive health care reform and we ought to do it now and there is a way to do it,” Specter said. “I provided the 60th vote. We passed it in the Senate. Let the House accept it, simultaneously with a bill to make certain changes through reconciliation and 50 votes. There will be no disagreement about taking away the giveaway to Nebraska and Louisiana and the other inappropriate measures but let’s move ahead and let’s move ahead now.”

Specter’s remarks could go some way towards alleviating angst among House Democrats who have been hesitant to proceed with health care reform without an explicit guarantee from the Senate that it will make additional changes to the legislative language.

Good for Specter. If he can find 49 friends in the Senate Democratic caucus who agree, the chances of the White House hosting a historic signing ceremony sometime soon improve considerably. The House is looking for Senate partners committed to getting this done, and Specter is offering a strong example of the kind of dedication House Dems are looking for.

There are, meanwhile, some procedural hurdles that complicate matters. They’re surmountable, but they’re going to take some work.

Senate leadership aides have identified what they see as a key roadblock to passing a fix to their bill via reconciliation — and parliamentarians in the Senate and House are hard at work trying to identify a solution, aides say.

These efforts should give reform proponents both comfort and pause. The identification of this obstacle explains why the Senate leadership has been loath to publicly endorse the reconciliation fix, and the fact that parliamentarians are studying it so closely suggests a solution is possible. However, they have yet to solve this problem, aides acknowledge.

Here’s the glitch: the House wants the Senate to approve some changes to its health care bill before the House votes on the package. The Senate can’t, however, approve changes to legislation that hasn’t been signed yet (in order to fix a law, it has to be a law).

Nevertheless, the relevant players are looking into their procedural/parliamentary options — which in and of itself is evidence of progress. And by that I mean, people who are supposed to be talking to one another, working on finding a solution, are talking to one another, working on finding a solution. Optimism about reform proponents is more common than it was a week ago.