WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats prepared to launch a final push on Tuesday to pass healthcare reform without Republicans this month, and predicted it could gain new support from Democrats who opposed it last year.
U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Steny Hoyer said he saw the possibility of gaining support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping healthcare overhaul from Democrats who voted “no” when the House considered it in November.
“We’re talking to everybody,” Hoyer said as Democrats prepared to move forward on final passage. “Do I think there is a possibility of some people changing? Yes I do.”
Obama is expected to announce on Wednesday his plans for forging ahead with an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare system, with Democrats preparing to use a procedure called reconciliation that allows Senate approval by a majority vote.
That approach, which can only be used for budget-related measures, would bypass the need for 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the 100-member Senate. It requires only a simple Senate majority of 51 votes.
“We’re working very hard to get consensus in both houses,” Hoyer said of talks among Democrats on the best way forward.
Democrats in the Senate and House passed healthcare bills last year that would reshape the industry by cutting costs, regulating insurers and expanding coverage to tens of millions of Americans.
But efforts to merge the different measures and send a final version to Obama collapsed in January after Democrats lost their crucial 60th vote in a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.
Using reconciliation to pass the final bill would be a two-step process. The House would approve the Senate-passed bill, and changes to the Senate bill sought by the House would be passed separately through reconciliation.
Many of those changes, such as adjustments to a tax on high-cost insurance plans and additional federal subsidies to make coverage more affordable, were incorporated in a proposal released by Obama last week.
He is expected to adjust that package as part of his announcement on Wednesday, possibly to incorporate one or two additional Republican ideas after last week’s bipartisan summit failed to win any Republican converts.
Democrats still face a challenge in getting the overhaul through the House, which passed the overhaul with only three votes to spare in November. Hoyer said he was confident of winning more converts because “when bills change, members look at it somewhat differently.”
With congressional elections approaching in November, Democrats are anxious to move past the healthcare debate and talk about job creation and the economy.
Republicans have criticized any effort to use reconciliation on the healthcare bill, even though they have used it to pass bills at least 14 times since 1980.
“Democrats are saying they want a simple up-or-down vote on healthcare. What they really want is to jam their vision of healthcare through Congress over the objections of a public that they seem to think is too ill-informed to notice,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.
Republicans plan to raise many objections and offer a flood of amendments during the process, hoping to extend the debate and force Democrats into multiple difficult votes ahead of November’s election.
Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by David Alexander and Doina Chiacu