Reconciliation likely for health bill

WASHINGTON — As Democrats on Capitol Hill prepared a risky effort to muscle sweeping health care legislation to final passage, President Obama on Tuesday made a last gambit to split Republicans on the issue, proposing to incorporate a handful of GOP ideas into his signature domestic initiative.

Today, Obama plans to call on Congress to bring the yearlong debate to a swift close, and congressional leaders expect him to signal support for a strategy that includes a special budget maneuver known as reconciliation. Under that strategy, the House would adopt the bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve and approve a separate package of fixes to reflect a compromise worked out between Democrats in the two chambers.

Under reconciliation rules, the fixes could not be filibustered and Senate Democrats could approve them with a simple majority vote — a move intended to bypass a Republican caucus that remains united in its opposition to the legislation.

Republican leaders said Obama's offer to adopt some of the ideas they promoted at last week's health-care summit would do little to improve what they consider a fundamentally flawed measure.

"If the President simply adds a couple of Republican solutions to a trillion-dollar health care package that the American people don't support, it isn't bipartisanship. It's political cover," Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the No. 2 House Republican, said in a statement.

Obama's gesture to include GOP-backed provisions on cutting costs and preventing fraud appeared to strengthen the resolve of congressional Democrats. Some Democrats were initially queasy about pressing forward after Republicans claimed a crucial 41st Senate seat six weeks ago in a Massachusetts special election.

On Tuesday, Democratic leaders seemed increasingly confident that they could revive the bill and deliver it to Obama's desk, perhaps before the Easter recess begins March 29.

"We're anxious to get health care done, which we will get done," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters.

Even some Democrats who had been reluctant to support the original package seemed ready to ignore a growing barrage of criticism from Republicans.

Reconciliation is a procedure created in 1974 to help lawmakers advance politically difficult budget legislation, particularly measures that reduce the deficit.

It has been used 22 times by both parties since 1980 to promote a variety of policies, including overhauling the welfare system, creating COBRA health benefits for people who lose their jobs, and cutting taxes in two huge packages championed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003.