By Lisa Wangsness, Globe Staff
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters this morning that the House is working on two tracks to pursue health reform. She said she hopes to announce soon a series of smaller health care bills, such as removing the antitrust exemption for insurance companies, that could pass relatively quickly. But she said House and Senate leaders are continuing to work on fashioning a series of changes to the nearly-complete comprehensive health care bill, which has been stalled since the Massachusetts special Senate election deprived Democrats of the 60th vote they needed to pass the legislation.
With Republican Scott Brown replacing the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the majority party has only 59 senators, one short of the number needed to prevent the GOP from using a filibuster to block the bill. To get around this problem, Democrats would use a special budget procedure known as "reconciliation," which allows certain legislation to pass the Senate by a simple majority of 51 votes.
Though some Senate moderates have expressed concern about using reconciliation to finish work on health care, Pelosi insisted today that Democrats will not abandon the health care bill and that leaders are working intensively on reviving the larger bill.
"We must take whatever time it takes to do it," she said.
The thinking is that the House and Senate would pass a series of agreed-upon changes to the Senate bill under reconciliation, and then the House would pass the Senate bill itself. That approach could reassure House members who are reluctant to vote for the Senate bill for fear that the Senate might later balk at the changes.
Because of the strict rules limiting the content of what can pass under reconciliation to provisions dealing with raising or spending revenue, the whole bill cannot be passed using that procedure. But fixes such as changing taxes raised to pay for the bill -- one of the main points of contention between the House and Senate -- could.
An aide to Pelosi said the series of smaller bills could be unveiled before the mid-February recess.
UPDATE: But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sounded far less urgent about health care when reporters asked him about Pelosi's statements a few minutes ago, saying only that Democrats would have to determine how to best to move the bill forward procedurally. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, was similarly noncommittal about the hows and whens; he said it was up to Reid to decide.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.