Nearly a year after Democrats introduced legislation to reform the health care industry - first by flirting with the prospect of having a government-run program to compete with private insurers and then floating a proposal to expand Medicare to a younger demographic - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that Congress is ready to vote on a final bill as early as next week that doesn't include either of those plans.
The legislation will expand health care coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans, but it also includes a mandate requiring Americans to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. The measure does not have the support of a single Republican, and in recent days some progressive and conservative Democrats have been on the fence about whether or not they will support the legislation when it comes up for a vote.
But Pelosi said she was confident she will have enough votes to ensure the bill passes. She said she hopes Congress will vote on the bill before March 21, the date President Obama leaves for his trip to Asia. Earlier Friday, the White House announced that Obama's trip, originally scheduled for March 18, would be delayed.
Pelosi added that the March 21 date is not a firm deadline, but she is "hoping it will be in that time frame."
The House Budget Committee is expected to take up the bill Monday and from there it is expected to reach the floor for a final vote next Friday or Saturday. The legislation would then be sent to Obama for his signature. From there, lawmakers would vote on legislative changes introduced in a separate bill.
"Of course, we're eagerly awaiting the final word from" the CBO, Pelosi said at a news conference Friday. "And when they do [sic], then we will be able to send a bill to the Budget Committee, the Budget Committee will pass that out, we'll go to the Internet with that and discuss the specifics of the legislation with our members, and we'll take whatever time is required for us to pass the legislation."
Pelosi added, "It's important to note that what we are doing is reconciliation... We'll be acting upon the Senate bill with changes that were in the House bill reflected in the reconciliation. So in order to have the Senate bill be the basis and build upon it with the reconciliation, you have to pass the Senate bill, or else you're talking about starting from scratch.
"So we will pass the Senate bill. Once we pass it, whether the President signs it or doesn't, people would rather he wait until the Senate acted, but the Senate Parliamentarian,...said in order for them to do a reconciliation based on the Senate bill, it must be signed by the President..."
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid formally notified Sen. Mitch McConnell that he he will use the budgetary process of reconciliation to try to pass a final round of changes to the health care bill in the Senate with a simple majority and avoid a Republican-led filibuster.
"We plan to use the regular budget reconciliation process that the Republican caucus has used many times," Reid told McConnell in a letter he sent to the Senate Minority Leader Thursday. "Keep in mind that reconciliation will not exclude Republicans from the legislative process."
"I have supported - when I say support, signs in the street, advocacy in legislatures - I have supported single payer for longer than many of you have been - since you've been born, than you've lived on the face of the earth. So I think, I have always thought, that was the way to go, A. B, the public option, it isn't without a little sadness that I view that it is not in the bill.
"But in fighting for the public option, which is, I think, a fight that was led in the House, and we had it in our bill, we improved what is going to be in the final product, because while we may not have a public option, we have the purpose of the public option served by the exchanges and what they allow by the rate reviews, which we insisted upon, insurance rate reviews, and by saying that insurance companies, should they be raising rates between now and the onset of the exchanges, may be prohibited from participating in the exchanges.