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Where to go next on health care legislation has been foggy at best, but today the mists began to clear. After yesterdays bipartisan summit, Democratic leaders have decided two things: one, to give up on any hope of Republican support for their overhaul, and two, to press on anyway. Now the leaders have to figure out what new health care policy they can pass with the votes of Democrats alone.
NPRs Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: For almost an entire year, the big question about health care has been: What can pass the Senate? Because over there you usually need 60 votes to win. Now that Senate Democrats have decided to swerve and bring up the health care bill under what are called budget reconciliation rules, they only need 51 votes, a simple majority, to pass the bill. So suddenly, the big question has changed. Now what everyone wants to know is: What can pass the House? If you listen to the Republican whip Eric Cantor, not much.
Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): They cant pass this bill.
SEABROOK: Cantor has widely circulated a memo that says the House has changed a lot since the first health care bill passed by a vote of 220 to 215. The Senate loosened abortion language, seats have shifted, and now, says Cantor, there's just no way to thread the needle in the House and pass health care with only Democratic votes.
Rep. CANTOR: There is a scenario where you can see that Nancy Pelosi doesnt have any more than 200, maybe 200 and a couple more votes.
SEABROOK: But Cantor is the Republicans whip not the Democrats. And, though many admit it'll be tricky, its not impossible, says Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva.
Representative RAUL GRIJALVA (Democrat, Arizona): We have to get something that gets us 217 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate. I think its doable, but because were going it alone, we can make it as strong as possible.
SEABROOK: Now Grijalva is co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus. For him, a stronger bill is a more liberal bill.
Rep. GRIJALVA: Many of us continue to push for the public option. Many of us continue to say national health exchange instead of state by state. And I think if the needle is going to be thread, you already know within our Caucus who the no votes are going to be.
SEABROOK: Then there are the conservative Democrats who want strong clear language banning the use of federal money for abortions. This is Pennsylvania Democrat Jason Altmire.
Representative JASON ALTMIRE (Democrat, Pennsylvania): I want to see it totally prohibited, airtight, lock solid, you cant spend federal money on - or any taxpayer money on abortion.
SEABROOK: In fact, Altmire is one of the Democrats who voted against his partys bill in the House not because of abortion, but because it didnt do enough to control medical costs, he says, or focus on quality of care rather than quantity. Now the Democrats are working on a new compromise.
Rep. ALTMIRE: If they add some stronger language in the House set on cost containment, I think youre moving in the right direction, but again I need to see language.
SEABROOK: Thats the kind of give that Democratic leaders are hoping for. It appears that some conservative Democrats, even those who voted against health care the first time, are open to a new version of the bill. What changed? Well, one conservative Democrat, Allen Boyd of Florida, cited the announcements by several insurance companies that premiums will shoot up this year. And then one liberal Democrat, Jim McDermott of Washington, says there's a big question all members are asking themselves in this election year: After spending months and months struggling with health care and taking gut-wrenching votes, is it better take a stand and get nothing done or to accomplish something thats imperfect?
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
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