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Pelosi Pushes for Health Care Vote Next Week

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday she hopes to pass President Barack Obama’s health care reform package next week — and reiterated that the public insurance option will not be included.

Pelosi said the House would enact the Senate health care bill and then make changes to that measure by passing a reconciliation bill, which will also reform the student loan program. Pelosi said she hopes to complete this before Obama leaves on his overseas trip March 21.

“I feel very exhilarated,” she said following a meeting of the Democratic Caucus. “Members are eager to pass a bill.”

Pelosi said that she expected to receive assurances from Senate Democratic leaders that they would quickly pass the reconciliation bill, but her Members are more confident the Senate will act given that the reconciliation bill cannot be filibustered.

She predicted her Members would ultimately line up to enact the Senate bill even though it will take some time before the reconciliation bill becomes law.

“They’re strong enough to do it whether the bill is signed on one day or signed on Friday,” she said.

And Pelosi, asked about a statement by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that he would whip on behalf of the public insurance option if Pelosi can get it through the House, threw the issue back at the Senate.

Pelosi said that the public option would not be included in the bill and blamed the Senate for failing to find the votes to include it.

“It isn’t with a little sadness that it won’t be in the bill,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t let the Senate “put it on our doorstep” after they couldn’t pass it in their original bill.

“It isn’t in there because they don’t have the votes to put it in there,” she said.

A letter backing the public option remains short of signatures from the 51 Senators whose vote would be needed to include it in the reconciliation bill.

But even if it was included, there is no guarantee Pelosi could get it through the House. That’s because she may have to offset anti-abortion Democrats who are threatening to vote against the reconciliation package with more conservative Democrats who voted against the original House health care bill, which included the public option.

House leaders are hoping to move forward without making additional concessions on abortion, although aides note that no decision is final until they have the votes for passage.

Asked whether she considered the abortion and immigration language to be set in the bill, Pelosi reiterated that only budget-related items can be included in the reconciliation measure.

“Reconciliation is just about the budget,” she said.

On the abortion issue, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) underlined comments he made yesterday suggesting the House will forge ahead without adding strict language to appease Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and other anti-abortion-rights Democrats. Hoyer said the Senate approach — which Stupak has assailed as too weak — cannot be tweaked “per se” in the reconciliation package. “We’ll have to deal with it pretty much as it is at this point in time,” Hoyer told reporters Friday.

And though much attention has focused on whether House leaders can muster a majority to pass the Senate bill without Stupak and those backing him, Hoyer signaled optimism that Stupak himself will vote for the package without his fix. “Mr. Stupak has made it very, very clear that he’s very strongly in favor of achieving health care reform in this Congress, and I think that a lot of his colleagues feel the same way,” he said.

Hoyer’s comments came as House Democrats huddled for the second straight morning to review provisions of the reconciliation package though they have yet to receive cost estimates on it from the Congressional Budget Office.

Democrats exiting the meeting nevertheless said they sense the reform drive is gaining steam. “There’s been a tidal change, I think, in the last 72 hours or so. I think people are becoming more confident that we’re going to get this done,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said.

Pelosi, meanwhile, strongly supported the inclusion of the student loan package in the legislation, noting that it had been planned for reconciliation in the Democratic budget blueprint passed a year ago, and said the Senate Parliamentarian ruled it must be included.

Pelosi said that she didn’t think the inclusion of the package, which has already passed overwhelmingly in the House once, would affect the votes for the bill.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), said the student loan package, which would eliminate subsidies for private banks while cutting costs and boosting grants for students, was a simple proposition.

“The question is do you want to be helping big banks at the expense of students,” he said.

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