Declaring that the administration sensed "some momentum" on health care reform, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained on Friday that President Obama decided to delay a trip to Asia in part to help build trust between the two chambers of Congress on the legislation.
"[House Democrats] are concerned," Gibbs said on Friday. "I think that's why the President is spending time also dealing with senators to ensure that they are supportive of those legislative fixes on their side of it, too."
Gibbs would not formally acknowledge that parliamentary rules would require that the House of Representatives pass the Senate bill in full, without a firm commitment that it would be fixed via reconciliation. But the potential hurdle loomed over the briefing.
Earlier in the day, House Democratic leadership all but declared that they would have to pass the Senate's health care bill and have it signed into law by the president before they could pass a reconciliation package to fix that bill.
"[W]e will pass the Senate bill," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.). "Once we pass it, the president signs it or doesn't, it's -- people would rather he waited until the Senate acted, but the Senate Parliamentarian, as you have said, said in order for them to do a reconciliation based on the Senate bill, it must be signed by the president."
Such a procedural path forward will require a significant leap of faith from Pelosi's cohorts in the House. Already, there is disappointment among many members about the reach and language of the Senate bill. To have to pass that bill without a clear commitment that it would be amended at a later date could be a major stumbling block to getting a bill passed.
"Two hundred and ninety times this Congress, the Senate has failed to act on bills passed by the House," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Friday "Fool us once, shame on you, fool me two hundred and ninety times, shame on us."
All of which has set up a scenario in which the president will essentially play the role of Congressional mediator (as much as policy crafter) in the days ahead; and why he felt compelled to delay his departure to Indonesia from March 18 to March 21.
"I don't want to wade into the parliamentary politics on Capital Hill," Gibbs said, "except to say this: the president is talking not just with members of the House on the vote that they are going to have to make, but also with members of the Senate to ensure that the corrections the president sees as so important... are also acted on. And so... it's a dual track. It works together."
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