Democratic Leaders Head to White House for Health Reform Meeting
On Wednesday, President Obama convened a lengthy meeting with top House and Senate Democratic leaders and key administration officials as part of a more involved effort by the White House to resolve differences between the chambers' two health care reform bills (HR 3962, HR 3590), the New York Times reports (Pear/Stolberg, New York Times, 1/14).
Obama has called on the chambers' leaders to complete work on the final reform bill quickly, but the lawmakers in recent weeks have been locked in disagreements over some of the bills' main provisions, particularly on issues related to financing reform and expanding access to health coverage (Pierce/Dennis, Roll Call, 1/13).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attended the meeting -- which lasted more than eight hours -- along with the chairs of five congressional committees that participated in crafting the legislation, The Hill reports (Young/Allen, The Hill, 1/13).
Vice President Biden, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other top administration and congressional staffers also were present for portions of the meeting (Adamy et al., Wall Street Journal, 1/13).
Points of Discussion
According to the Times, much of the discussions were focused on whether to:
- Include an excise tax on high-cost health plans, which Obama favors but has been strongly opposed by labor unions and some House members;
- Increase the Medicare payroll tax; and
- Levy a tax on investment income, such as on interest, dividends and capital gains.
The lawmakers and administration officials also attempted to broker an agreement on whether to create a national insurance exchange, which the House bill proposes, or a series of state exchanges offered in the Senate bill.
Meeting attendees also broached proposals for expanding Medicaid and boosting federal subsidies to help low-income residents obtain private insurance, but spent little time discussing the differences in the bills' language on insurance coverage for abortion services, the Times reports (New York Times, 1/14).
According to a participant at the meeting, Obama expressed his preferences on the various provisions, the Wall Street Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 1/13).
Where Things Stand
In a joint statement released after the meeting, Obama, Pelosi and Reid said, "Today we made significant progress in bridging the remaining gaps between the two health insurance reform bills," adding, "We're encouraged and energized, and we're resolved to deliver reform legislation that provides more stability and security for those with insurance, extends coverage to those who don't have coverage, and lowers costs for families, businesses and governments" (Montgomery, Washington Post, 1/14).
The chambers' Democratic leadership and committee chairs are scheduled to resume talks on Thursday at the Capitol, and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is expected to stand in for Reid, who will be away for a previous commitment, Roll Call reports (Roll Call, 1/13).
On Thursday, Obama also is expected to address House Democrats at the Capitol (Washington Post, 1/14).
Closer to a Deal, but How Close?
According to Politico, the lengthy meeting indicates that House and Senate leaders are "far closer" to reaching a consensus on the final legislation (Budoff Brown/O'Connor, Politico, 1/13).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who attended Wednesday's meeting, said, "I think [Obama's] participation in the details is an indication of how critically important he thinks it is for the American people to do what he said he would do, and that is to be sure that every American has access to affordable, quality health care" (Washington Post, 1/14).
Politico reports that White House officials have urged the leaders to complete work on the bill within the next week to 10 days because they recognize that the Congressional Budget Office requires significant time to provide a full cost analysis of the bill before the final votes can be scheduled on the chambers' floors (Politico, 1/13).However, senior Democrats maintain that it is unlikely that the final bill would be sent to Obama before early February -- as the White House hopes -- in time for him to tout the health reform deal during his annual State of the Union address (Washington Post, 1/14). 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.