Nancy Pelosi's health-care strategy
Hours before she was to host President Obama's State of the Union address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid out a road map for winning final approval of comprehensive health-care reform. Her message: "We need to get this done. Process, I don't care about. But we need to get this done, one way or another."
Pelosi's path is for the House and Senate to use the "budget reconciliation" process -- she rebranded it as "Constitutional majority rule," and noted that Republicans used it liberally when they controlled Congress -- to modify what House Democrats consider deal-breaking provisions of the health-care bill already passed by the Senate.
These include some alteration to the health insurance exchanges that the Senate bill creates, as a way of replacing the House-preferred public option; modification of the subsidies that are supposed to make health insurance affordable for all; and the excision of the Senate-passed excise tax on so-called "Cadillac" health insurance plans, which is bitterly opposed by organized labor.
To hear Pelosi tell it, the health plan tax is also bitterly opposed by House Democrats. "Our members still don't like the excise tax," she said. "They don't like half of it. They don't like any of it."
Once both chambers approve a reconciliation package, she said, the House would then be able to pass the Senate bill. The process would avoid forcing the Senate to start over -- this time, without a filibuster-proof majority -- but it would require 51 senators to agree to amend the portions of the bill that the House finds unacceptable. Pelosi said she would let Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid comment on whether this is feasible.
One reason the public has become so wary of comprehensive health-care reform, Pelosi said, is that Democrats were trying to explain the legislation's benefits while the legislation was still largely unwritten. "When you have a bill, you can sell a bill," she said. "You can bake the pie or you can sell the pie, but it's hard to do both at the same time."
She proposed two mantras for Democrats running in November: that the Bush administration really did leave a horrible mess -- "We are sweeping up behind a great big elephant," is how she put it -- and that Obama's priorities of health care, education and energy are fundamentally about creating jobs. "The whole agenda was always about jobs," she said.
Republicans have had the easier communications task, she said: "To be negative is easy. I know that. That's how we won the House." Still, she admitted that Democrats have to do a better job of getting their message across.
"You may think you're communicating," she said. "But if your wife doesn't think you are, you aren't."
| January 27, 2010; 5:11 PM ET
Categories: Robinson | Tags: Eugene Robinson
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