Health End Game Hinges On House, Senate Trust

Obama delays trip to get lawmakers on board

By by Carrie Dann and Ken Strickland
|  Friday, Mar 12, 2010  |  Updated 1:13 PM EDT
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Health End Game Hinges On House, Senate Trust

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For the next few weeks, Obama-brand "hope" may be taking a back seat to "trust."

President Obama’s decision on Friday to delay an overseas trip came after reports that an impartial Senate umpire is likely to push House and Senate Democrats into a legislative leap of faith.

The Senate parliamentarian indicated Thursday that before a compromise health care bill can be finalized, House Democrats will have to approve a version of the bill that many of them don't like.

In order for the bill to be "fixed" in the way that most Democrats would like, the Senate’s legislation (without any changes or amendments) now must pass the House and be signed into law by the president. Then, that law can be changed through the Senate "reconciliation" process.

(Click here to learn more about the reconciliation procedure.)

But Senate Republicans have vowed to challenge each step of the thorny procedure for amending the bill after it is signed into law. And so now, Senate Democrats cannot promise that they will be able to follow through on the changes the House wants addressed during reconciliation.

It all means that the president, who was scheduled to start his trip to Australia and Indonesia on March 18, will delay his departure until March 21 to try to soothe potential mistrust between the two chambers.  If the House is able to pass the unrevised version of the legislation and the president signs it into law, Obama will now be in Washington to provide the moral and political support to push the finished product across the finish line.

In the interim, there would be a law on the books — with the president’s signature at the bottom — which includes more than a handful of widely unpopular measures, including carve-out deals like the Nebraska “Cornhusker Kickback” and the “Louisiana purchase,” made with individual senators. House Democrats may ask for a written pledge from at least 51 Democrats that those provisions will be stripped out.

 

But Republicans, already heartened by the parliamentarian’s expected ruling in their favor, are hoping that the nonpartisan rule maker will find other problems with Democrats’ desired fixes, derailing or delaying final passage of the revised bill.

 

In other words, even if House Democrats make the leap and pass the bill, it’s not clear that there’s a soft landing at the bottom of the cliff.  And opponents of reform hope that uncertainty could be enough to keep them from jumping at all.

NBC's Mark Murray contributed to this report.

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