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No Health Care Bill Until February?

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senior administration officials have told Politico that the White House is expecting negotiations on the health care bill to drag into February – which would mean that President Obama would not be able to tout passage of the legislation at his State of the Union address.

That speech will likely occur in late January or early February.

Once the Senate passes the bill, which is widely expected to take place tomorrow morning, the action moves to conference committee. That's where the House and Senate versions of the bill are reconciled. Once a final bill is hammered out, both chambers must then vote on the combined bill before it goes to the president for his signature.

But this work won't begin immediately. The House does not return until January 12th from its winter break, and the Senate does not return until January 18th. The Congressional Budget Office will also need to spend at least a week to calculate the cost of the compromise the bill before lawmakers vote on it.

Among the issues likely to complicate the conference process is abortion. The House and Senate versions of the bill both include restrictions on abortion coverage, but the House language is more strict: An amendment in the legislation prohibits women from using federal subsidies on health care plans that cover abortions, and also restricts any public plan from covering abortion.

The Senate plan, by contrast, does allow women who are subsidized by the government to enroll in plans that cover abortions, though they would have to pay for the abortion coverage separately.

With both abortion rights supports and opponents in both chambers taking strong positions on the issue, crafting compromise language acceptable to a sufficient number of lawmakers will likely be a challenge.

In general, because the 60-vote coalition supporting the bill in the Senate leaves no room for error, the compromise bill is widely expected to track more closely to the Senate version than the House version.

But since there is a large block of House Democrats who would oppose the bill if they are displeased with the abortion language, negotiators will likely not be able to simply largely adopt the Senate bill's handling on that particular issue.

There is some good news for the White House, however, when it comes to the overall bill: Democrats in the more-liberal House are signaling that they will largely accept the Senate version, a fact that should make the conference process less difficult.

More on Health Care:

Obama Defends Health Bill as Passage Nears
Abortion Still Threatens Health Care Bill
Senate Moves Up Final Health Care Vote
A Legal Challenge to Nelson's Health Deal?
Health Care Bill Puts Pain Before Gain
Health Care Bill Clears Second Senate Vote
Senate's Deal: Compromise or Corruption?
Tallying the Health Care Bill's Giveaways
Harkin: Dems Focused on Health Reform Big Picture
Comparison of Senate, House Health Care Bills
Some Seek to Kill the 60-Vote Filibuster
Washington Unplugged: Dean Tells Dems to "Toughen Up"
Washington Unplugged: Rep. Stupak Opposes Senate Abortion Compromise Special Report: Health Care

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