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Menendez Says Health Reform Will Pass in Spring

Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the Senate Democrats’ campaign chief, expressed confidence Sunday that comprehensive health care reform would pass Congress this spring and that voters would warm to the measure as they become more familiar with what it does.

But Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), appearing with Menendez on “Fox News Sunday,” predicted that defections by Democrats in the House would sink the legislation. Kyl, facing increasing odds that Democrats will get a final version of the bill through the Senate on a simple majority by using reconciliation, said: “Their bigger problem is going to be in the House. I doubt seriously there will be enough House Democrats who will risk their careers to vote for this.”

Menendez and Kyl traded shots over the appropriateness of using reconciliation, a parliamentary tool available under the budget resolution that would allow at least portions of the health care reform package to pass on a 51-vote majority.

Menendez pointed to Republicans’ extensive use of the device during the George W. Bush administration, while Kyl argued that it was mostly deployed for “simple budget measures.”

Menendez said his “first hope” was for a compromise with Republicans that would make reconciliation unnecessary, but he said the need for comprehensive reform was so acute that Democrats would proceed in the absence of agreement with the GOP.

“I think we will get to that point where we have the votes” to pass the overhaul, Menendez said.

Kyl said Democrats would pay a price at the polls if they do pass reform on reconciliation.

On a separate issue, Kyl said he expects a temporary extension of unemployment and other benefits to pass, after Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) filibustered to stop the legislation last week.

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