With key vote at risk, Democrats scramble over quick health care compromise

“Understand what’s at stake here,” President Barack Obama tells a crowd in Boston as he campaigns Sunday for Senate candidate Martha Coakley. Congressional leaders are looking for a fallback on  health care legislation in case she loses Tuesday to Republican Scott Brown.

Associated Press

“Understand what’s at stake here,” President Barack Obama tells a crowd in Boston as he campaigns Sunday for Senate candidate Martha Coakley. Congressional leaders are looking for a fallback on health care legislation in case she loses Tuesday to Republican Scott Brown.

BOSTON — A panicky White House and Democratic allies scrambled Sunday for a plan to salvage their hard-fought health care package in case a Republican wins Tuesday's Senate race in Massachusetts, which would enable the GOP to block further Senate action.

The likeliest scenario would require persuading House Democrats to accept a bill the Senate passed last month, despite their objections to several parts.

Aides consulted Sunday amid fears that Republican Scott Brown will defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy's seat. A Brown win would give the GOP 41 Senate votes, enough to filibuster and block final passage of the House-Senate compromise on health care now being crafted.

House Democrats, especially liberals, viewed those compromises as vital because they view the Senate-passed version as doing too little to help working families. Under the Senate-passed bill, 94 percent of Americans would be covered, compared with 96 percent in the version passed last year by the House.

The House plan would increase taxes on millionaires while the Senate plan would tax so-called Cadillac, high-cost health insurance plans enjoyed by many corporate executives as well as some union members.

When the House passed its version, members assumed it would be reconciled with the Senate bill and then sent back to both chambers for final approval, even if by the narrowest of margins.

The newly discussed fallback would require House Democrats to swallow hard and approve the Senate-passed bill without changes. President Barack Obama could sign it into law without needing another Senate vote.

If Coakley does win, final passage of a House-Senate compromise on overhauling health care is not guaranteed, but seems likely.

Obama campaigned for Coakley in Boston on Sunday, saying, "Understand what's at stake here, Massachusetts. It's whether we're going forward or going backwards. If you were fired up in the last election, I need you more fired up in this election."

Top aides, meanwhile, furiously weighed options if she loses. They include:

• Acting before Brown is sworn in. Congressional and White House negotiators could try to reconcile the House and Senate bills quickly and pass the new version before Brown takes office.

• Seeking a Republican to cast the crucial 60th Senate vote.

• Start over and pass a new, scaled back health bill using budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority of 51 Senate votes. Several Senate aides said this was unlikely.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly ruled out a House vote on the Senate's version, and privately, officials have raised concerns about asking the rank and file to vote on legislation containing provisions that might prove problematic in the midterm elections.

With key vote at risk, Democrats scramble over quick health care compromise 01/17/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 17, 2010 9:53pm]

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