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Franken Lays Out 'Pledge And Pass' Strategy For Health Care

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Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) called on Friday for Senate Democrats to commit to passing amendments to its health care legislation through the process of reconciliation -- so that the House can then pass legislation of its own.

In a call organized by the pro-reform group Health Care for America Now, the Minnesota Democrat laid out what he called a "pledge and pass" strategy for getting a bill into law.

"If we in the Senate pledge to fix those top priorities right away through reconciliation... the House of Representatives should pass the Senate bill. The exact details of this process need to be worked out by the leadership and the president."

Franken also tried to alleviate some of the concerns of those who argue that the Senate legislation -- even with reconciliation fixes -- doesn't go far enough.

"Like it or not, the reality is that big pieces of legislation often need to be fixed after passage," he said. "Health care is a historic undertaking and this is no different. I think we have to stop letting the perfect -- and everyone has different definitions of perfect -- we have to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good... Walking away empty-handed to me is just not an option."

In offering his preferred procedural remedy for health care's impasse, Franken echoed a emerging sentiment within the Democratic caucus. Sens. Arlen Specter (Penn), Max Baucus (Mont.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) Kent Conrad (ND), Jeff Bingaman (NM), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and others have all either endorsed or openly considered the idea of using reconciliation to change their bill.

There were some crossed messages on the call -- the person who preceded Franken, HCAN National Campaign Manager Richard Kirsch, advocated a slightly different legislative strategy for congressional Democrats.

As Kirsch sees it, the Senate would have to make reconciliation changes to its legislation first before the House would then vote on the entire package.

"A bill can be passed without having to have these 60 votes. The whole 60 votes [thing] is crazy. There is nothing in the constitution about 60 votes," said Kirsch. "Through [budget reconciliation], a lot of what's in that final compromise can still be passed. That would mean that both the Senate and House will pass a budget reconciliation bill and then the House will pass the Senate bill."

"It is totally a matter of political will," Kirsch added. "It is not a matter of procedure. It is up to the Democrats to exercise their political will... and it up to us to help provide the energy behind that."

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