Democrats Still See Chance of Enacting Health Care Reform
Democratic leaders have confirmed that health reform discussions are ongoing, despite the loss of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 1/29).
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday said that health reform "rested for about a week," but "it's not dead" (Drucker, Roll Call, 2/1).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday said, "I had a conversation with [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] today. We're moving forward" with reform but "haven't determined" how to do so. "That's why we're still communicating," he said (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/29).
According to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, Democrats are still "inside the five-yard line" in attempting to pass major health reform legislation (Johnson, "Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 1/31).
Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said, "We're still looking at a way to do comprehensive legislation," adding that "certain provisions have to be dropped out" (Hooper, The Hill, 1/31).
Reconciliation Still on the Table?
Harkin on Thursday confirmed that despite being unpopular with many moderate Senate Democrats, leaders are still considering using the budget reconciliation process to pass comprehensive reform (Roll Call, 2/1).
The process would require the House to pass the Senate bill unchanged, but allow the House to create a ride-along bill that could amend the Senate legislation and require only a simple majority in the Senate to pass.
Meanwhile, Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack on Thursday said that Pelosi made it clear in discussions with him that the House will not go forward with a strategy of attempting to pass a scaled-back version of health reform legislation (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/29).
However, according to a senior Democratic aide, it is unclear whether Reid has the 51 votes necessary to pass a package of House-proposed changes. Still, Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) expressed confidence that the "more they think about it, the more they can appreciate that it may be a viable ... vehicle for getting health care reform done" (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 1/30).
Reid spokesperson Jim Manley on Friday said that Democratic leaders hope to make a final decision by the end of this week on the strategy for moving forward with health reform legislation (Edney, CongressDaily, 1/29).
Harkin said that he hopes to see the outlines of a bill before Congress adjourns for the Presidents' Day recess on Feb. 12. "We're going to be working on this for the next couple weeks," he said, adding, "And then after we come back after that week, I hope we'll put the finishing touches on it and get it done" (Roll Call, 2/1).
GOP Wants To Restart Health Reform
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is urging Democrats to start over on health reform and work with Republicans to develop "common sense steps that we can take to make our system work better," the Washington Post's "44" reports.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Boehner said, "We've seen all week Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid continuing to scheme and plot trying to find some way to get their big government takeover of health care enacted," adding, "They are still trying to find a way to shove this down the throats of the American people." He pledged that "Republicans are going to continue to be vigilant in exposing this."
In an interview on ABC's "This Week," Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) called on Democrats to "[g]o back to the drawing board and do it in a transparent, bipartisan manner" (Murray, "44," Washington Post, 1/31).
Health Reform Deal Was Ready
In the days before Sen.-elect Brown's victory in Massachusetts, House, Senate and White House negotiators had reached a final deal on health reform that they had sent to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring, according to Harkin, The Hill reports.
"We had an agreement" that was sent to CBO "and then Tuesday happened and we didn't get it back," Harkin said. According to Harkin, the deal covered the agreement reached with labor groups over the proposed excise tax, the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap, the level of federal insurance subsidies, a national health insurance exchange and Medicaid assistance for states.
Senate Democratic aides and a White House spokesperson declined to confirm Harkin's claim (Bolton, The Hill, 1/30).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.