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Dems Grapple With What Loss Of Health Care Means For 2010

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Democrats fretting over the effect that the Massachusetts Senate race could have on health reform are now seriously debating what would happen to the party if nothing at all were to pass.

On Tuesday a host of Democratic lawmakers and health care observers insisted that health care legislation will be passed into law in some form or another, if for no other reason than because it has to.

"I'm very confident that health reform will pass and that Democrats in the House and the Senate understand that failure on health reform is not a politically viable option," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the pro-reform group Families USA. "It is bad for the nation but also bad for their political futures because it will appear that Democrats can't implement their reform agenda."

A top Democrat official working on health care reform was even more blunt: "It is absolutely true that a bill that passes is a good bill and a bill that fails is a bad bill..."

This may be difficult logic to swallow, both for progressives and conservatives within the party. As it stands now, the one clear avenue for getting reform into law (should Brown emerge victorious) is to have the House pass the Senate's bill with the promise of future changes. This would allow lawmakers to skip an additional Senate vote. But it also means that House Democrats will have to swallow hard on some objectionable provisions, something that not every member is readily willing to do.

"I'm not sure about [Pollack's] argument," said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ari.), a leading House progressive, in an interview with the Huffington Post. "I'm not sure about who the audience is we are talking to. Are we talking to the audience that expected much more for us or are we talking to the audience that politically wanted to get something done? That's what makes the vote difficult for progressives."

Added, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday: "I think you could make a good argument that health care might be dead," said the New York Democrat. "Because, look... I think it's going to be very hard to ask us in the House to take the Senate bill when everyone acknowledges it was a worse bill."

There are, of course, ways to win these lawmakers over. Grijalva himself, hinted that a direct assurance from the president that he will push for changes to health care legislation immediately after it is passed into law (through the use of reconciliation) would go a long way to alleviate his concerns.

"It has to be from the White House and it has to be verbally and publicly from the president, saying that we will go along with the understanding that other things we want will be tackled independently and immediately," he explained.

Moreover, not every progressive lawmaker is opposed to the possibility that they might have to pass the Senate's bill.

"The speaker's been very clear and has been very determined that there actually will be a bill," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) in an interview with the Huffington Post. "I don't know where it's going to come out, but I think that we will have a bill. We weren't that far apart at the end of last week... I think there will be a bill and I think it could be a pretty good bill."

"The Senate bill clearly is better than nothing," added House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-M.D.) during a conference call with reporters.

In private, the chatter surrounding health care seems much closer to Hoyer's calmness than to Weiner's concern. One top Democrat said it would be a moderately simple sell to get the House to pass the Senate's bill, provided the assurances were there to change it down the road.

"The pieces that need to be fixed -- the affordability and Cadillac tax -- are all budget issues, which you can do in reconciliation," the official said.

Schakowsky, likewise, said that there are multiple avenues to get legislation through both chambers of Congress. One was to have quick "ping-pong" negotiations between the two bodies before Brown was seated -- though there is some uncertainty whether the time exists to get through all the standard parliamentary loopholes. The other was to follow the strategy suggested above -- reconciliation.

"I know that that's one of the options," the Illinois Democrat said. "I think the proximity of those votes [passing the Senate bill and then amending it through reconciliation] will be very important for that to work. In other words I think we would have to do it really the same day for there to be confidence that that would actually happen."

Pelosi, for her part, told reporters in San Francisco that there was no doubt "that we will have health care one way or another."

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