Democrats Move Forward on Health Reform on Their Own
With President Obama’s seven-hour health care summit with congressional leaders on Feb. 25 failing to produce a bipartisan compromise, the stage is now set for Democrats to move forward on their own.
While it is still unclear how the Democrats plan to proceed, one emerging option for passage of health care reform is for the House to pass the Senate bill that was approved on Christmas Eve, without any House amendments. The House and Senate would then produce and vote on a package of changes to that legislation under a budget process known as reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes for final passage. The amendment process for reconciliation in the Senate is more complicated, however.
This option would require a majority of House Democrats to vote for the Senate bill, which many of them do not like, with the expectation that their concerns would be addressed in the reconciliation package.
While Senate reconciliation procedures allow for an expedited general debate process and a simple majority for passage, they also permit an unlimited amount of relevant amendments to be offered. Senate Republicans have stated publicly that they are prepared to offer as many amendments as it takes to kill the current health care reform package.
Although the possibility of Senate Republicans succeeding in stalling reconciliation has made it even more difficult to round up House Democratic supporters for the Senate measure, House lawmakers are continuing to lobby their colleagues to support a vote on passage of the unaltered Senate bill.
If Congress proceeds along the reconciliation path, NAHB will mobilize an intensive lobbying and grassroots push to oppose the unamended Senate bill and strip from that bill a provision by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that targets small businesses in the construction industry. The Merkley language unfairly targets small construction firms by requiring them to provide health insurance or face stiff fines if they employ more than five workers. Small businesses in every other industry, on the other hand, would be exempt from providing mandatory health coverage if they employ 50 workers or less.
NAHB has already spent many months laying the groundwork for this endeavor. Led by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), four Democratic senators are on record opposing the provision, along with 18 Senate Republicans. Other House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders have also indicated to NAHB that they oppose the Merkley provision.
The situation will remain fluid until Democrats have determined their legislative strategy to push the health care overhaul across the goal line. A crowded legislative calendar and the need to further address the struggling U.S. economy won’t make that job any easier.
NAHB is monitoring events closely and will continue to lead the fight with other like-minded business groups to ensure that the Merkley language is eliminated from any final health care legislation to emerge from Congress.
For more information, contact Carlos Gutierrez at 800-368-5242 x8242.