The end may well be near. After more than a year of fractious debate, close votes, and presidential speeches, the House is preparing to vote this Sunday on a final version of a bill to reform the American health care system. That could be the beginning of the end, but it won’t be the end. Here’s a timeline of what’s to come:
Today’s big House vote
Sometime Sunday afternoon, the House will have its big vote. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has said he expects lawmakers to start voting at 1 p.m. ET. Others expect the vote to kick in after 2:07 p.m. ET, exactly the 72 hours House leaders promised to wait after the Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of it (see our explanation of what the CBO score meant and why it matters here). If Democrats want more time to convince House members to vote their way, they could even push the bill back into the late afternoon or early evening.
Democrats are sounding, and appearing, confident that they’ll have the 216 votes necessary to pass the bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been leaning hard on a cluster of Democratic holdouts, offering stronger campaign support and other deal-sweeteners for members facing tough re-election fights this fall, and of course threatening to withhold support from members who vote “No.” It’s a delicate process, though, since it involves not only the plus-sized egos of politicians but also the political calculation for Pelosi of whether forcing some to vote her way could cost them their seat and her her speakership.
There’s also ongoing speculation and controversy about what procedure the Democrats will use for the vote (see our explanation of the “deem and pass” procedure and controversy here). Whatever forms the vote takes, if 216 House members line up in the “Yes” column, it will be the beginning of the end of this debate and the action will move to the Senate.
A week of maneuvers in the Senate
If all goes to plan, the Senate will quickly vote on the so-called “sidecar bill,” the fixes the House wants to see in the version of the bill the Senate originally passed in December. Because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already announced his intention to use his own streamlined tactic called “reconciliation” (see our explanation of what reconciliation is and why it’s controversial here), Democrats will only need a 51-vote majority for the fixes. The original Senate bill, not passed through reconciliation, needed and got a 60-vote supermajority to prevent a Republican filibuster.
Formal scheduling of the Senate action will await the outcome of the House vote, so expect an announcement and political debate about that in the coming week. Reid and his lieutenants must be reasonably confident they’ll move quickly, though, considering eagerness to launch debate on other controversial bills, such as an overhaul of the national immigration system.
Destination: a signing ceremony with President Obama
Once the House and Senate have both passed the same legislation, Congress’s work will be done. All that happens next is that the bill goes to President Obama to be signed into law. If it gets to this point, expect this to be a major piece of political theater. President Obama has apparently indicated privately that his presidency hinges on this bill, so success would be something he’d want to savor and play up.
The president could also issue a few signing statements declaring that he will choose not to enforce certain parts of the law he finds objectionable. This was a favored tactic of George W. Bush, and Obama has shown a weakness for signing statements despite campaigning in 2008 against their excessive use. Meanwhile, a host of conservative legal groups have already initiated court challenges to health care reform on constitutional grounds—even before the bill has moved out of Congress.
Nothing in Washington is ever simple—even when it’s on a timeline.
—Chris Lehmann is the Managing Editor of the Yahoo! News blogs. Thomas Kelley also contributed research for this piece.