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Democrats eye sneaky tactics to save ObamaCare

January 18, 2010 | 10:59 am

First, Democrats in Massachusetts rammed a bill through the state Legislature after Ted Kennedy's death allowing the Democratic governor to appoint a caretaker Democrat to fill the seat until a special election could be held -- ensuring a 60th vote for President Obama's healthcare reform. It was assumed that in Massachusetts, with a 3-to-1 Democratic edge in voter registration, a Democrat would win.

But now, given the sudden prospect that Democratic Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley could lose to upstart state Sen. Scott Brown, Democrats in Washington are plotting how to save healthcare.

One scenario that's floating around is capitulation -- the House would accept the Senate version of the bill, thus negating the need for the Senate to vote again. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is said to oppose this idea, since many in the House -- including organized labor -- detest the Senate's tax on Cadillac health plans and passing the Senate version could endanger Democratic seats in the 2010 elections.

Another idea is to delay Brown's seating -- Democrats control the certification process in both the state and in Washington -- and rush a conference bill to both chambers. Already, lawyers from both sides have called the governor's office for details on the procedures.

Finally, there's reconciliation, a ju-jitsu procedural move that would allow the Senate to pass the bill with a simple majority of 51 instead of 60 votes.

"Even before Massachusetts and that race was on the radar screen, we prepared for the process of using reconciliation," said Maryland Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Getting healthcare reform passed is important. ... Reconciliation is an option."

No matter how they wrangle the details, the Democratic ploys are likely to open them to changes that the party that campaigned vowing transparency in office has instead channeled the power-scheming tactics of Tammany Hall.

-- Johanna Neuman

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