Jan 16, 2010 23 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) — Even if Democrats lose the special election to pick a new Massachusetts senator Tuesday, Congress may still pass health-care overhaul through a process called reconciliation, a top House Democrat said.
That procedure requires 51 votes rather than the 60 needed to prevent Republicans from blocking votes on President Barack Obamaâ€™s top legislative priorities. That supermajority is at risk as the Massachusetts race has tightened.
â€œEven before Massachusetts and that race was on the radar screen, we prepared for the process of using reconciliation,â€ Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said.
â€œGetting health-care reform passed is important,â€ Van Hollen said in an interview on Bloomberg Televisionâ€™s â€œPolitical Capital with Al Hunt,â€ airing this weekend. â€œReconciliation is an option.â€
Should Democrats take that route, the legislation would have to be scaled back because of Senate rules.
He also said he expects Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley to win in Massachusetts.
Van Hollen said Republican predictions that the political climate had changed so much that they can capture the 40 seats needed to regain control of the House was â€œpure hallucination.â€
â€˜Into the Ditchâ€™
â€œWhy would you hand the keys to the car back to the same guys whose policies drove the economy into the ditch and then walked away from the scene of the accident?â€ Van Hollen said. â€œFor the Republicans to say vote for us and bring back the guys who got us into this mess in the first place, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a winner.â€
He said Democrats expect to see their majority shrink this year because the party that occupies the White House traditionally loses congressional seats in the first midterm election.
At the end of a week dominated by images of death and destruction after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, Van Hollen said lawmakers likely will approve whatever relief money the president requests. Obama has already asked for $100 million.
â€œWe want to help people who need relief immediately, and so to that extent I support it,â€ Van Hollen said this afternoon.
Separately, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Haitian nationals now in the U.S. will be allowed to stay for an additional 18 months because of the quake devastation.
On other domestic issues, Van Hollen said Congress wonâ€™t raise the gasoline tax this year to fund a new long-term construction program for roads and mass transit. The current six-year, $286.5 billion transportation legislation is expiring.
Jobs legislation passed by the House includes $50 billion for construction projects, Van Hollen said. Longer-term legislation with a gas-tax increase will require â€œsome kind of bipartisan consensus before you more forward,â€ he said.
On the decision to require Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to testify before the House Financial Services Committee, Van Hollen said that while he didnâ€™t believe Geithner was in political danger, it was appropriate for him to come before Congress.
Lawmakers want to know why the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which Geithner formerly led, agreed to payments of 100 cents on the dollar to companies that held American International Group Inc. credit-default swaps tied to subprime mortgages.
Van Hollen said the New York Fedâ€™s decision was wrong and the U.S. needed to â€œunderstand how that decision was made, because that kind of decision should not be made in the future.â€
As Democratic congressional leaders worked with the White House to meld House and Senate versions of the health-care overhaul legislation, Van Hollen said there was no deadline for completing the measure.
â€œOur more important goal is to make sure we get it right,â€ he said.
While polls show opposition to the legislation — a Quinnipiac University survey found 58 percent of Americans opposing the way Obama was handling the issue — Van Hollen said the individual components were popular and most people will support the measure once it clears Congress.
â€œItâ€™s been subject to a lot of demagoguery, a lot of misinformation,â€ Van Hollen said. Once the measure is finished, â€œpeople will see the benefits.â€