Critical Condition

The Democrats’ Temporal Paradox on Health-Care Reform

Nancy Pelosi says she has 218 votes to pass the Senate version of the health-care bill if fixes to it can be passed via reconciliation. Can they?

Nobody in the majority seems to know. Here is the Plum Line, on how discussions between the House and Senate are being held up as the two bodies try to figure out how to amend legislation that doesn’t even exist yet:

The latest: Senior Senate aides say they’ve hit an impasse over one of the proposed routes forward — the scenario where the Senate would pass a reconciliation “sidecar” fix to the Senate bill first, making it easier for the House to then follow up and pass the Senate bill.

Senate aides say that they’re not sure this possibility — one of several floated by Dem leaders, and one preferred by some House Dems — is procedurally workable. And they say figuring out whether that’s feasible is what’s causing the delay.

“Neither the House nor the Senate have figured out how to pass a reconciliation sidecar first,” one senior Senate aide says. “We are being asked to pass a piece of legislation that amends another piece of legislation which does not exist yet. We are having problems with the CBO and parliamentarian on that front.”

The internecine warfare continues unabated, with Senate Democrats apparently non-committal about what they are willing to do to “fix” their version of the bill if it passes out of the House”

What’s more, Senate aides are irked by public demands by some House Dems that they step up the pace. House Democrats are signaling that they’ll try to pass the bill if they get that reconciliation fix. But some of them are criticizing the Senate side for not making it clear fast enough what the Senate is prepared to do.

That isn’t sitting well with senior Senate aides. “We’re frustrated with the arm-chair quarterbacks over there,” the Senate aide says. “This is difficult and time-consuming.”

Even if passing the “sidecar” first proves unworkable, it’s also possible that the House could pass the Senate bill, followed rapidly by a mandatory reconciliation fix. The Senate side insists that it’s making a serious effort to figure out what’s possible, and is pleading for patience as Senate aides hack their way through grueling procedural thickets. Bottom line: This process is going to take longer than anyone wants, and will be marred by plenty of finger-pointing. So get ready for a long slog.

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