House progressive won't back Senate healthcare bill

The co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus says Senate healthcare bill won't fly

By Mike Madden
Published January 20, 2010 4:50PM (EST)

The co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus says he won't support a plan to have the House pass the Senate healthcare bill, then change the legislation through budget reconciliation.

"It has to be the whole thing" done through reconciliation, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., told Salon Wednesday morning. "The whole issue of parallel -- do this or do that later -- I don't believe that will occur." Getting the House to agree to pass the Senate bill -- without changing even a single comma -- is the only way to send healthcare legislation to President Obama without the Senate having to vote on it again. But Grijalva thinks that option is virtually impossible. "If it is the Senate bill that we're asked to just merely vote on [and] send to the president's desk for his signature, I think it's going to be difficult to round up a majority," he said.

House progressives will meet with leadership later Wednesday. If they won't go along with the Senate bill, it's just another reminder of how complicated the healthcare process is going to be after Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts Tuesday night.

But Grijalva said Congress should just find a way to ram healthcare through the budget reconciliation process, which only needs 51 votes in the Senate. The rules in the Senate might make it impossible to get most of the bill past that process; anything considered policy, rather than budget-trimming, would still need 60 votes. But Grijalva thinks that's the Senate's problem, and if the Senate, which still has a wide Democratic majority, can't get its act together, then it's time to pull the plug on the bill. "The Senate, through their rules, could say none of this is possible, but I think if we want to pass something, I don't think it's going to be their version," he said. "If it all fails, then we're down to [former Democratic National Committee chairman] Howard Dean's point."

And as panicked Democrats try to figure out what to do after losing an election they thought was basically guaranteed a few weeks ago, progressives don't want their colleagues to come to the wrong conclusions.

"Rather than retreat and go hide under the covers, I think what's important for Democrats -- particularly in the House -- is to push the envelope," Grijalva said. "It's time for some good old-time religion. And start talking to the base -- we need the base. If they stay home, we're in trouble."

What will keep them from staying home, Grijalva thinks, is more action, not less.

"One of the things that I heard more and more [about] deals that were made [in the Senate healthcare debate] -- 'It's the same old ballgame, Raúl, you guys haven't changed,'" he said. "I think we underestimate that attitude. We won because people were tired and they were cynical about their government, and we need to energize them and make them begin to trust that we're doing the right thing. Just act like Democrats. Let's go work for what we're supposed to work for, and if we have to drag this White House with us, that's fine."

Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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