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Democratic Staff Crafting Plan to Beat Filibuster

Staffers for Senate Democrats continued this week to work on a procedural strategy for overcoming the Republican filibuster of health care reform legislation, even after President Barack Obama called for a Feb. 25 bipartisan summit designed to bring the two parties together on the issue.

Obama plans to invite Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders to a nationally televised meeting designed to bridge the partisan divide over health care reform. But in the interim, the Senate majority has not abandoned using reconciliation — a procedure that would allow legislation to pass on a simple majority — as an option to sidestep Republican opposition, a senior Democratic aide confirmed Thursday.

Senate Republicans charged that the Democrats’ continued pursuit of this legislative strategy calls into question Obama’s motives for the summit.

“Either Democrats are not impressed with the president’s newfound interest in bipartisanship or they’re confirming that his planned outreach is simply a PR stunt,” a senior Republican Senate aide said. “Whichever is the case, bipartisan summits everyday for the next nine months couldn’t undue the damage a reconciliation bill would have on our country’s health care or Democrat careers.”

The Democrats in mid-January were on the cusp of reaching an agreement to reconcile two health care reform packages approved by the House and Senate late last year.

But that effort was indefinitely derailed on Jan. 19, when Republicans picked up an additional Senate seat in the Massachusetts special election held to choose a successor to the late Edward Kennedy (D). Now-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who won that contest, vowed to be the 41st Republican vote that would allow the GOP to sustain a filibuster of any reconciled health care bill.

Democrats resisted reconciliation throughout last year, even as much of their voting base called for them to use the strategy to pass health care reform in the face of strong GOP opposition. The majority did not begin work on a reconciliation bill until late last month, when it became clear that a 51-vote bill might be their only recourse given a Republican filibuster that appears unlikely to be broken.

House Democratic leaders are pushing their counterparts in the Senate to pursue reconciliation. But drafting a 51-vote bill is difficult, and Senate Democratic staff has been laboring to produce a vehicle that is procedurally sound while still including the desired policy reforms.

“A constitutional majority is 51 votes,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Roll Call during an interview Tuesday.

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