One of the most powerful union officials in the country is urging Senate Democratic leaders to craft an entirely new health care bill and pass it using reconciliation before sending it to the House of Representatives for a vote.
Richard Trumka, who heads the union federation AFL-CIO, stressed in an interview with the Huffington Post that the key to getting legislation passed was for the Senate to move first. This could be either by pre-emptively amending the bill they have already passed or by constructing new legislation and using parliamentary tactics to get it considered by an up or down vote.
"I don't think there are the votes in the House to pass the Senate bill," Trumka said. "I don't think they exist. I think the ball is in the Senate's court. The Senate has to come up with 51 votes for a bill that the American public can accept and that the House can get the votes to pass. So I think it is up to the Senate right now."
"If you were a House member would you accept that or would you say to them you produce the 51 votes and the bill and then we will come on board?" Trumka asked.
The remarks represent some of the most direct strategy suggestions offered by union officials since the health care reform process hit is current, critical impasse. They also reflect an ongoing push among proponents of the House's legislation to see the Senate modify its bill as a first step towards finding consensus between the chambers.
In an interview with The Plum Line's Greg Sargent, Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) likewise insisted that the votes in his body would be there, provided that representatives were assured the Senate would amend objectionable provisions.
"I feel certain that the House Democrats will pass health care reform if the fixes that we feel need to be made to the Senate bill are guaranteed," Clyburn said. Asked directly if the House votes would be there if this happened, Clyburn said: "Yes, sir."
Currently, the Senate bill contains a tax on high-cost insurance plans that House Democrats find unacceptable. Its lower subsidies and state-based (as opposed to national) insurance exchanges also are deeply opposed by House lawmakers. Democrats in that chamber are looking for ways to alter the legislative language around these provisions as a means of pacifying House Democrat concern. But negotiations are proceeding slowly. In their weekly caucus luncheon, the topic didn't even come up. Already, three conservative Democrats have pledged to oppose using reconciliation even for amending health care legislation.
And by Tuesday night, the New York Times was reporting that the party was putting the "brakes on" reform until a clear legislative path forward became visible.
Trumka, in the interview, expressed his desire to see reconciliation used to pass a fundamentally new Senate bill altogether. Acknowledging that it could take some time, he stressed that Democratic lawmakers needed to understand that getting the best policy was the surest cure for their political ailments. "This isn't about overreaching and being too active," he said. "This is about under-reaching and not being active enough."
Poll numbers released on Tuesday appeared to confirm that. In a study commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a majority of both Democrats (73 percent) and Independents (44 percent) in toss-up House districts said that the lesson they took from the Massachusetts Senate election was that voters were upset with the slow pace of change.