Congress Sharpens Focus on Health Care Reform After July 4 Recess
Returning from the July 4 recess, Congress is expected to work for the next five weeks on final versions of health care reform legislation, but it is uncertain whether lawmakers will meet a self-imposed August deadline to bring their measures to the chamber floors, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/5).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told Fox News Sunday that the House will seek to pass health care reform legislation before the August recess (Noyes, CongressDaily, 7/5).
However, hopes of passing legislation by that time in the Senate "appear all but dead," Roll Call reports.
Late last week, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) -- who is leading the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's reform effort while Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) receives treatment for brain cancer -- indicated that the chamber's goal is to merge the HELP and Senate Finance Committee bills by the August recess and hold a floor vote after Labor Day (Drucker, Roll Call, 7/6).
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "I think, if we can reach a compromise, we can get this done by August the 8th, or at least get it out of committee by August the 8th" (Brady, Roll Call, 7/5).
A senior Democratic aide said that the official timeline set by Democratic leaders in the Senate is to pass legislation by Aug. 7, predicting an easy merger of the Finance and HELP bills and an introduction of the legislation to the floor by mid-July to allow two weeks of debate.
According to Roll Call, an arsenal of possible Republican delay tactics and the impending confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor could play a role in slowing down the process (Roll Call, 7/6).
The prospect of passing health care reform legislation in the Senate depends on whether lawmakers are able to reach a consensus on key health care proposals, the Washington Post reports (Murray/Montgomery, Washington Post, 7/6).
The Senate Finance Committee has yet to release legislation and continues to work on developing a bipartisan bill.
Committee members have reached agreements on many proposals but remain divided on:
- A government-run health insurance option;
- Whether employers should be required to cover at least part of the cost of workers' health care; and
- How to finance reform (Connolly, "Daily Dose," Washington Post, 7/6).
Some Finance Committee members are adamant about including a public health insurance option in the final bill; however, the committee has focused on including health insurance cooperatives and a "trigger" option in its bill (Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, 7/3).
Meanwhile, the HELP committee last week released a revised version of its bill that cuts the cost of its reform plan to $611 billion over 10 years and includes a public health insurance option that would be run by HHS (Adamy, Wall Street Journal, 7/3).
The revised HELP committee bill also would levy a fine of $1,000 or more on U.S. residents who do not purchase health insurance, according to the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7/5).
The HELP and Finance committees also need to build consensus about the threshold at which families could qualify for health insurance subsidies.
The proposed Finance Committee legislation likely will set the threshold at 300% of the federal poverty level (Washington Post, 7/6).
The revised HELP committee proposal sets the threshold at 400%, down from an original proposal of 500%.
The two committees also are divided on a proposal for an employer mandate, with the HELP Committee proposing a play-or-pay option (Young, The Hill, 7/2).
Issues in the HouseSome of the contentious issues involved with the House bill include a public plan option and proposals to finance health reform with a value-added tax, a tax on sugary drinks and an increase in alcohol taxes (Washington Post, 7/6). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.