Democrats in Congress Signal Slow Down on Health Care Reform
On Tuesday, congressional Democratic leaders signaled for the first time that they are not under any pressure to complete work on health reform legislation, but they noted that work on the bill is continuing and remains a key item on their agenda, the Wall Street Journal reports (Adamy, Wall Street Journal, 1/27).
The leaders also acknowledged that they need more time to strategize their next move in the wake of last week's loss of a crucial Senate seat in the Massachusetts special election (Werner, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1/27).
According to the New York Times, some Democrats do not expect further developments in the reform debate until late February, at the earliest.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that "a number of options" -- particularly on the "procedural aspects" -- are being discussed as leaders try to construct a final bill out of the House and Senate bills (HR 3962, HR 3590) approved last year (Herszenhorn/Pear, New York Times, 1/27).
After a meeting with Senate Democrats, Reid said that there is "no rush" to complete the negotiations (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Boston Globe, 1/27).
Sizing Up the Options
The Journal reports that Senate Democrats believe their best option for completing the legislation would be for the House to pass the Senate bill as it currently stands with an accompanying bill that addresses many House members' concerns.
House Democrats, during their own meeting on Tuesday, agreed that shelving health reform at this point is not an option, according to a Democratic aide, who added that most members were open to having some type of legislation passed but only if significant changes are made to the Senate bill (Wall Street Journal, 1/27).
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said, "We are not passing the Senate bill, period" (New York Times, 1/27).
However, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he believes the Senate bill could be passed in the House if specific revisions are made to the bill, particularly the removal of provisions that would cover all or part of the cost of a Medicaid expansion in Nebraska and Louisiana, and a reduction on a proposed excise tax on high-priced insurance policies that labor unions oppose (AP/Boston Globe, 1/27).
Bayh, Lincoln To Vote Against Bill Under Reconciliation
On Tuesday, Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.), both moderates in the chamber's Democratic caucus, said they would not support any attempts by Democrats to use budget reconciliation to pass a revised bill through the chambers, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 1/27).
Bayh said that reconciliation "would destroy the opportunity, if there is one, for any bipartisan cooperation the rest of this year on anything else" (New York Times, 1/27). Other moderate Democrats, such as Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), said they are not completely opposed to the reconciliation process but that they have some concerns about it (Budoff Brown/O'Connor, Politico, 1/26).
Hoyer Outlines Dems' Game Plan on Reform
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday said Democrats should finalize their course of action on health reform by next week, CQ Today reports. During his weekly meeting with reporters, he said that doing so would give lawmakers adequate time to review and identify President Obama's message from his State of the Union address on Wednesday (Wayne/Epstein, CQ Today, 1/26).
Hoyer said, "I think the president's discussion [Wednesday] night will certainly add to our information we have available to make that decision" (Edney/House, CongressDaily, 1/26). However, he added, "I would be surprised if [Obama] says specifically exactly how he hopes to get health care done" (New York Times, 1/27).
According to The Hill, Hoyer appeared to diverge from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) comments last week that there was "no rush" to develop a final strategy to pass the legislation. He noted that he agrees with Pelosi's assessment last week that there are inadequate votes in the House to pass the Senate bill.
Hoyer said, "Frankly, we're trying to figure out what's possible," adding, "Reid needs to determine what is possible on his side of the aisle, what kind of support he can get" (Allen, The Hill, 1/26).
During the briefing, Hoyer also outlined four options for Democrats to move forward on reform:
- Abandoning the bill;
- Developing a series of scaled-back bills from the chambers' two bills to draw Republican support;
- Having the House pass the Senate bill as is; or
- Having both chambers pass a mutually agreeable bill (AP/Boston Globe, 1/27).