Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) urged his Democratic colleagues over the weekend to unite around a plan that would allow them to move forward with health care legislation using a process that requires only 51 votes.
Speaking at a Pennsylvania Progressive forum on Saturday, Specter suggested that the only way to get health care reform passed would be to placate House Democrats who were concerned about passing the Senate bill pro forma. The only way to placate House Democrats, he added, would be to pass amendments to the Senate's legislation "simultaneously" through the use of a process known as reconciliation.
"I believe we ought to pass comprehensive health care reform and we ought to do it now and there is a way to do it," Specter said. "I provided the 60th vote. We passed it in the Senate. Let the House accept it, simultaneously with a bill to make certain changes through reconciliation and 50 votes. There will be no disagreement about taking away the giveaway to Nebraska and Louisiana and the other inappropriate measures but let's move ahead and let's move ahead now."
Specter's remarks could go some way towards alleviating angst among House Democrats who have been hesitant to proceed with health care reform without an explicit guarantee from the Senate that it will make additional changes to the legislative language. There was a rumor that 51 Democratic Senators were crafting a pledge to use reconciliation once the House passed the Senate bill, but leadership aides said it was false.
Still, Democrats on the Hill are noticeably more confident about legislation's prospects today than they were just one week ago. Part of it is simply the product of continuous communications between both chambers. The White House has also been involved in the discussions.
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed last week that his boss has had "dozens" of conversations with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on the topic of health care reform since the party lost the Massachusetts Senate seat. Reid has had a conversation with the president as well, Manley said.
On the House side, meanwhile, there is a renewed optimism that the votes will be there to move legislation forward once lawmakers are convinced the Senate can, and will, use reconciliation to make amendments.
"The House really wants the Senate to go first," said Ron Pollack, Founding Executive Director of Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers. "They need to have a sense of trust that the Senate bill will be modified." (Pollack relayed this sentiment shortly after meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi).
Everyone, meanwhile, is gradually moving to the recognition that the worst thing the Democratic Party could do, would be nothing at all. As Jeff Liszt, a Democratic pollster at the firm Anzalone Liszt Research, told a conference organized by Families USA on Friday: "I really see it as existential threat for Democrats if they fail to get health reform through."