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House lacks votes to pass Senate health bill, Pelosi says

Cites vehement opposition to some provisions

By Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane
Washington Post / January 22, 2010

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WASHINGTON - As Democrats continued to grapple with the consequences of their loss in Massachusetts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday eliminated the most obvious avenue for completing health care reform, saying the House will not embrace the version of the legislation already approved by the Senate.

“I don’t think it’s possible to pass the Senate bill in the House,’’ Pelosi told reporters after meeting with her caucus. “I don’t see the votes for it at this time.’’

Pelosi, Democrat of California, had struggled to sell the Senate legislation to reluctant Democrats since Tuesday, when Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate election cost Democrats their filibuster-proof Senate majority. House approval of the Senate package would have delivered the bill quickly to the president’s desk, allowing Democrats to move on to job creation, their election year priority.

But many House members could not be persuaded to support the Senate version. They demanded that the Senate pass a separate bill amending the health care legislation before they consent to support it.

Senator-elect Brown, who will fill the seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy, told reporters that he voted for a health care overhaul in Massachusetts in what he called “a great bipartisan effort.’’

“It’s clear that I wanted coverage for everybody in Massachusetts,’’ Brown said. “The bill that was being pushed in Washington was not good for Massachusetts.’’

Pelosi described her members as vehemently opposed to a provision in the Senate bill that benefits only Nebraska’s Medicaid system, language added to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska. Also problematic are the subsidies the Senate would offer to uninsured individuals, which some House liberals view as insufficient, and the excise tax it would impose on high-value policies, which could hit union households.

“There are certain things the members simply cannot support,’’ Pelosi said.

Senate Democrats agreed to many of the changes during negotiations this month to merge the chambers’ respective bills. Brown’s victory, however, leaves them unable to overcome a filibuster on their own.

The only other option under consideration is to write a new bill, possibly scaled back considerably to win Republican support, an undertaking that could consume months, with no guarantee of success.

Brown said he is open on the issue.

Senior Democrats said they were still absorbing the implications of their election loss. “Obviously, you cannot just proceed as if nothing happened, because something very significant happened,’’ said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York. “There’s a strong view in both caucuses that we want to do some good things in health care, and the question is how. How much and how quickly?’’

Schumer added: “I don’t think we want to do health care [for] the next three months. So there are trade-offs here, and that’s what everyone’s exploring.’’

Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.