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Grassley Calls to Scale Back Health Reform, Democrats Consider Split Bill

BY Lea Winerman  August 20, 2009 at 4:15 PM EST

Sen. Charles Grassley; Photo Getty Images

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa told the Washington Post that the outpouring of public anger at town hall meetings in the past several weeks had convinced him that the public does not support the Democrats’ extensive health care overhaul plans.

“Not just on health care, but on a lot of other things Congress has done this year, people are signaling that we ought to slow up and find out where we are and don’t spend so much money and don’t get us so far into debt,” he told the paper.

Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is one of six bipartisan negotiators on that committee — three Democrats and three Republicans — who are still trying to hammer out a bipartisan health care reform bill.

Versions of bills passed one other Senate committee and three House committees earlier this summer, but none attracted any Republican support.

Although members of Congress are out of Washington for their August recess, the Senate negotiators will continue their discussions via conference call Thursday night.

Grassley told the Post that he still hopes the group can draft a plan that attracts support from both parties. Recently, though, some Democrats have accused Grassley of undermining health reform efforts, by refusing to debunk rumors that the Democrats legislation would create government “death panels.”

In turn, Grassley has said that if President Obama really wants to attract bipartisan support, he should publicly confirm his willingness to sign a bill that doesn’t include a government-run health care plan.

Meanwhile, as the Democrats’ chance of attracting enough bipartisan support to pass their health reform legislation has come to seem less likely, some party leaders are considering trying a new legislative tactic.

Most legislation requires 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster by the other party. However, some budget-related measures can be passed in a process called “reconciliation,” which requires only 51 votes.

The Democrats’ new possible strategy could break the legislation into two parts. The first, more budget-related section — which might include new taxes, subsidies, public program expansions and perhaps even a public plan — would be considered under the filibuster-proof reconciliation procedure. The second part, which could be filibustered, would include things like new insurance industry regulations.

Senate leaders have not yet decided whether they will try to use the reconciliation procedure.

“We will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation until we have exhausted efforts to produce a bipartisan bill,” Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the Wall Street Journal.