Meet the new way forward (same as the old way forward)

MEET THE NEW WAY FORWARD (SAME AS THE OLD WAY FORWARD)…. The road to legislative success on health care reform has been readily apparent for several weeks: the House passes the Senate bill, the Senate approves changes through reconciliation. It’s been the pass-the-damn-bill solution since last month’s unpleasantness in Massachusetts.

There are still all kinds of variables that make success difficult. Will the House and Senate agree on a compromise deal that bridges the gaps? Are there 51 votes for the reconciliation fix? Are there 217 votes to pass the House?

Let’s say, just for the sake of pleasant conversation, that all of those questions can be answered in the affirmative. That may or may not come to be, but let’s just say it for now anyway. The next question is which chamber would go first. Time‘s Michael Scherer had a good item on this today. (via Kevin Drum)

The Senate does not want to go first because Republicans will be able to bottle up the reconciliation process, delaying the vote and making for another ugly sausage making spectacle that Americans hate to watch. If reconciliation takes too long, the thinking goes, then the House will never act, and the whole health care deal will die. But if the House goes first by passing the Senate bill, and the president signs it, then the incentive for Republicans to bottle up reconciliation would be diminished. Health care reform would, at that point, already be law…. Republicans would then be obstructing fixes to the law that would make the bill, arguably, better by getting rid of stuff like the “cornhusker kickback,” a much tougher proposition.

Here is where it gets tricky: The House is not going to vote on the Senate bill (even with a separate package of amendments to match the Senate’s reconciliation) until it is dead certain that the Senate will act. So how could those assurances be arranged? With the help of C-Span cameras, of course, or perhaps a letter from 51 Democrats vowing to pass reconciliation come hell or high water. Once the letter is read on the nightly news, the House can act, and suddenly the pressure would be on the Senate Republicans. With health care already law, the GOP will have to decide whether or not to spend weeks gumming up the Senate to delay some amendments to that bill.

Remember, as far as the Democratic leadership in the House is concerned, the Senate has to go first. As far as the Senate is concerned, the House has to go first. You see the problem.

The House’s reluctance is driven, in large part, by mistrust — the caucus doesn’t think it can count on the Senate to follow through and approve a budget fix through reconciliation later.

But there may be some signals of progress on this front. Speaker Pelosi this morning wasn’t quite as insistent on the Senate going first as she has been, and around the same time, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said it would “help a lot” if a majority of Senate Dems signed a letter pledging to make agreed-upon fixes, just as Scherer alluded to.

Just as important, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and an influential member of the caucus, told MSNBC that “choreography gets a little complicated,” but he envisions the process moving forward. “That may require us to pass the Senate bill first, and then send the reconciliation bill to the Senate for them to pass,” Miller said. “I think Senator Reid believes that he can put together the votes for that, and then we can have a new, modern health care system in this country that can be signed by” President Obama.

Glimmers of hope poke through the clouds….