Democratic governors meeting in Washington this weekend told National Journal they want their congressional counterparts to move health insurance reform through the Senate using fast-track budget reconciliation rules -- even if that provokes another partisan battle.
"Most of the United States is saying, 'What? You mean you have a body that doesn't work on 50 percent plus one? The whole world works on 50 percent plus one,'" said Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana. "Look, only the United States Senate could come up with a rule that says 40 people or 39 people can dictate what 60 people did. You won elections. Deliver for the American people."
As President Obama attempted to rescue his health initiative today by presenting his own $950 billion hybrid bill that blends last year's Senate-passed measure with tweaked elements from the House, the nation's governors were completing a three-day meeting in the nation's capital that was largely focused on health care. The governors met privately with the president and his team at the White House this morning and got the chance to share some of the frustrations they aired to National Journal over the weekend.
"I hope I'm wrong, but I don't believe in my heart that any Republican wants to see the president pass a health care bill," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D).
The former Democratic national chairman said a televised bipartisan health care summit hosted by the president on Thursday should be the last-chance effort before moving health care legislation through the Senate on fast-track reconciliation procedures. Such rules require only 51 votes for passage rather than the customary 60-vote supermajority. "The president should try one more time, and he's going to. If he fails that, then I think it's time to play by the rules," Rendell said.
Democrats in the House and Senate have been preparing for months on the technical requirements of enacting a complex health bill without Republican help by using what is usually a routine budget process. In the emotional health care debate, however, the GOP has painted budget reconciliation as akin to a desperate form of legislative trickery.
"Republicans in Washington don't feel like there has been any meaningful inclusion of their ideas," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "These are big issues that are being crammed through. Thus far, the Left has insisted on the whole enchilada."
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer made clear during a conference call with reporters this morning that the president's team fashioned the proposed bill to make passage using reconciliation possible. The president's proposal "is designed to provide flexibility, if needed, should the Republicans decide to filibuster health reform," Pfeiffer said, adding that Obama is determined to get "an up-or-down vote on health reform."
In a series of sit-down interviews with eight governors this weekend, the Democrats among the group told National Journal that congressional passage of health legislation is important for the country and that its benefits, once implemented, would eventually outweigh any of the short-term political uproar in Washington over procedural issues that propelled the changes into law.
What follows are some reactions by Democratic governors who spoke with National Journal:
• "People were promised change, and they haven't seen any change," said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire. "They want health care reform. They want to see something happen. And so for those in Congress that have been the naysayers and the obstacle, I say to the Democrats, put something up for a vote."
• "Governors are frustrated by the inaction here in Washington," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. "You've got to get something done. If the Republicans are going to block every step by using this 60-vote procedural move, then honestly I have to say for our people, who are hurting: Get something done."
• Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick: "I'm frustrated we don't have health care reform. I think it will come this year.... We have been on this path in Massachusetts for three years.... Everybody [in D.C.] needs to take a deep breath. And we need to all agree not to accept the status quo."
• Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter discussed at some length the new provider fee that Colorado enacted last year, to pay for increased Medicaid coverage. "We need health care reform [nationally]. But the states can do a lot, [though] we can't pick up the entire price tag."
Not surprisingly, Republican governors are not enthused about the prospect of Democrats enacting health care reforms using reconciliation, which would sidestep the GOP's ability to filibuster a Democratic health bill in the Senate. Republicans have urged Obama to start over, which he has declined to do.
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R), who is also chairman of the National Governors Association, said the president and congressional Democrats should not try to move health reform legislation forward along strictly partisan lines. "I think that would be a mistake, to be honest, because what we need is consensus, a bipartisan approach. It's going to be governors who implement whatever is ultimately passed by the Congress.... If there's not a broad buy-in by the states across the country, I don't believe it's going to work."