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Moving Right Along

The headline today is that the House must take one more vote on health care reform. But, don't worry, the news from the Senate is almost all good.

As you know, the underlying reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care, is law already. That happened Tuesday, when President Obama signed the bill. At this point, the only questions is what happens to the bill amending the Act--the one that strips out the Cornhusker kickback, reduces the tax on benefits, raises the tax on wealthy people's non-wage income, and improves the financial protection for people buying coverage in the new insurance exchanges.

The House passed those amendments on Sunday, right after it passed the Affordable Care Act. The hope was that the Senate would approve it, without changing a word, so it could go straight to the president.

But the amendments are moving through the budget reconciliation process, in which the rules prohibit the Senate from considering measures that are not germane to the budget. Republicans had threatened to challenge provisions that looked suspect. The fear was that the Senate parliamentarian would rule out key sections, even though Democrats had already consulted with the parliamentarian (with Republicans present) to get a sense of what would, and wouldn't pass muster.

Well, the Republicans followed through on their threat. And the parliamentarian did, in fact, throw out two passages from the bill. But the passages were about Pell Grants. All of the health care provisions stayed in. The Washington Post has details:

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said one of the deleted provisions was a technical item that he considered "as close to a 'nothing' as you can come around here." The second, more substantive provision would have set a formula for establishing maximum Pell Grant awards. But Conrad said the formula would not have taken effect for two years, giving Congress time to restore it in another bill.
Frumin deemed both measures to be out of order because they had no budget implications, Conrad said Thursday. The senator said no other Republican challenges to the legislation were still pending before Frumin, raising Democratic hopes that the Senate would take a final vote within hours.

Among other things, this means that a provision extending some basic insurance regulations--like bans on lifetime caps--to all plans remains part of the reconciliation package. (The original Senate bill exempted some existing plans from the requirement.) It's an important change and I, for one, feared it might not get through.

Senate leaders say they hope for a final vote today. Republicans may yet find new ways to delay its passage, but they can't, and won't, keep that up forever. The will to fight just isn't there. And while the ruling means the House must vote on the bill one more time, that should be relatively perfunctory. It's the same bill they already approved, minus those two minor provisions, and it's mostly features they sought in order to make reform overall more appealing.

Update: TPM's Brian Beutler has more on why the House should be able to pass the reconciliation bill, again, with minimal fuss.