Yes, America, the battle over health-care reform is still going on—way past all the deadlines that have been set for it to be wrapped up and passed, way past the limit of everyone's patience, way past the ability of words to describe the D.C. dysfunction beneath all the delay.
But hark! It appears an endgame is near. We've heard this before, true, and if the past is any indication, it could all fall apart or change at a moment's notice, but here, as of going to press on March 2, is the word from the political world: Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, having sat with Republicans through a seven-and-a-half-hour "Health Care Summit" on February 25, feel that they have now definitively proved that Republicans are not interested in negotiating on this issue. As a result, they're going to push a revised health-care-reform bill into law on their own.
How will the Democrats do this now that the election of Republican senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts wrecked their filibuster-proof Senate majority? Two steps: First, the House of Representatives will swallow hard and pass the Senate's version of health-care reform (which many Democratic House members dislike because of issues ranging from the lack of a public option to the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback," which for $45 million in federal Medicaid money bought the vote of Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska). It's worth them doing, however, because even an imperfect bill would fundamentally alter the American health-care system—banning discrimination because of preexisting conditions, for example, and setting up new "exchanges" in which people can purchase insurance at more competitive rates.
Then, Democrats in both houses—through a process called reconciliation that allows them to make law beyond the reach of the Senate filibuster—will enact a "sidecar" of fixes to the bill (deleting the Cornhusker Kickback, for example, and perhaps restoring a public option). After that, President Obama will sign the measures into law and the country will move on—until the midterm elections, which have basically already begun.
Expect the Washington State delegation to vote similarly to the way it did on November 7, 2009, when the House passed its proposal for health-care reform. That is, Seattle Democrat Jim McDermott voting yes, along with Jay Inslee (D-1), Norm Dicks (D-6), and Rick Larsen (D-2), while Doc Hastings (R-4) votes no along with fellow conservatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-5) and Dave Reichert (R-8).
Ed Shelleby, spokesperson for McDermott, said at this point his boss just "wants to get something passed—knowing that it will not be perfect and that there's going to be a lot of fixing to do. And then he wants to be around for the next couple of years to work on alterations."
The wild card? Retiring representative Brian Baird (D-3), who voted no on the original bill before he decided not to seek reelection, and now has nothing to lose. "He is undecided," said spokesperson Brianne Adderley.