Democratic Leaders in Congress Stress Commitment to Reform
On Thursday, congressional Democrats expressed confidence that they would pass major health care reform legislation this year but made it clear that their immediate legislative focus has shifted to jobs and the economy, leaving the timeline for completing reform legislation open ended, Politico reports (Budoff Brown, Politico, 1/28).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "The president made it clear that our number one focus this year is putting Americans back to work," adding, "We couldn't agree more."
Â However, Reid stressed that Congress is "going to do health care reform this year" (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 1/29).
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also pledged to pass a reform bill. She said, "We'll go through the gate. If the gate's closed, we'll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we'll pole-vault in. If that doesn't work, we'll parachute in. But we're going to get health care reform passed for the American people" (Politico, 1/28).
However, Pelosi indicated that it may not be as expedient a process as many had hoped, noting that there are significant differences between the House and Senate health reform bills (HR 3962, HR 3590).
"I would not call them minor tweaks because that would imply there's something there that we could accept, except for some minor tweaks. No, it's more serious than that," she said (Newmyer, Roll Call, 1/28).
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that he expects Congress to first address President Obama's economic agenda before taking action on health care reform. However, he confirmed that health care reform legislation is still being considered. "The good news is, nobody is saying 'Drop it,'" he said, adding, "Everybody is saying, 'Take the time to figure out how to get this done.'"
Emanuel said, "Not doing it is not part of this conversation" (Budoff Brown, "Live Pulse," Politico, 1/28).
Strategies Considered, Constraints Noted
Although Democratic leaders confirmed they would continue to attempt to pass reform legislation, there still is no consensus among the party on how to move toward that goal, the New York Times reports.
Reid said, "The question is, at this stage, procedurally, how do we get where we need to go" (Herszenhorn/Pear, New York Times, 1/29).
According to congressional aides, Democratic leaders continue to discuss possible strategies for moving forward on reform legislation (Politico, 1/28).
Among the strategies being considered is invoking the budget reconciliation procedure, which would require the House to pass the Senate health reform bill unchanged (Hunter/Epstein, CQ Today, 1/28). Politico reports Democrats still are "wading through" the political implications of using reconciliation to pass reform (Politico, 1/28).
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday warned that there "could be a time constraint" on passing health care reform using the budget reconciliation process because the authority to use the procedure was granted in the fiscal year 2010 budget resolution, which could be superseded when Congress adopts a new budget.
"There's no specific time limit, but you have to pass a budget resolution before you can start the appropriations committee allocations. So it all sequences," Durbin said.
April 15 is the deadline for passing a new budget resolution but the deadline is routinely ignored by Congress (Pierce, Roll Call, 1/28).
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday predicted that an agreement on how to proceed may be reached before Congress' weeklong mid-February break. "I think some things may happen before we leave here in the next two weeks," Harkin said, adding, "That we'll see some movement, that we'll see some things start to jell on how we're going forward" (Politico, 1/28).
House Considers Smaller Bills
Pelosi on Thursday indicated that the House could pass some smaller health reform measures, saying, "Some things we can do on the side," Reuters reports (Whitesides, Reuters, 1/28).
However, Pelosi said that the bills would not be "a substitute for comprehensive reform." Instead, they would be "sidebar issues we can move quickly," such as an elimination of health insurance companies' antitrust exemption (Epstein, CQ Today, 1/28).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.