By Julie Rovner
The Senate stinks today. Literally. Something about a workman leaving the cover off a vent somewhere on the west front and electrical work on the east front, combining to send unfiltered sewer gas throughout parts of the Senate wing of the Capitol Building.
It smelled like a bad bus station. They don't call this place the Swamp for nothing.
The stench was so strong that it forced Senate Democrats to take their weekly lunch caucus meeting away from their usual fancy room in the Capitol to an annex somewhere in the new Capitol Visitors Center.
What it didn't do, however, was force any resolution to the ongoing problem of what to do about moving forward on the stalled health bill.
Even though it's been a week since the Massachusetts meltdown in which Democrats lost their pivotal 60th vote in the Senate to block a Republican filibuster, Democrats seemed more uncertain than ever as to how to proceed.
The leading option remains to encourage the House to hold its collective nose and muster the votes to pass the bill approved by the Senate on Christmas Eve and get it signed by the president. Then the theory goes, the Senate could go back and "fix" some of the House's concerns via special procedure known as budget reconciliation. That bill would then only need 51 Senate votes to pass, circumventing their Scott Brown problem.
But House Democrats, who already strongly dislike the Senate bill, are wary about whether the Senate can follow through. And today it was easy to see why. Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, facing a tough re-election bid, put out a statement saying she is "opposed to and will fight against any attempts" to use budget reconciliation to make changes to the Senate bill.
In interviews following the closed-door Senate policy lunch, Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu expressed similar sentiments. "I think that is a model that is acceptable to more people," she said of the Senate bill.
That left Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who would be in charge of writing the "fix" bill, with little definitive to say. "That alternative is very much on the table," he said, "but we just don't know for sure. We haven't coalesced around a certain approach."
Said one reporter, possibly only half joking, "You know what that smell really is, don't you? It's the smell of the healthcare bill rotting."
categories: Health Overhaul