Members of Congress Return To Work on Health Reform Efforts
House and Senate members this week will return to work on crafting health reform legislation that they hope will be ready for floor votes in July, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will begin meeting Tuesday to discuss proposals for expanding health insurance to all U.S. residents, and the Senate Finance Committee later in the week will hold private talks to craft their own legislation.
House leaders also will meet this week to work on their plan, according to Stephanie Lundberg, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Over the Memorial Day break, lawmakers participated in many events and discussions related to health care.
President Obama also held a conference where he asked supporters to call on lawmakers to reform the health care system (Werner, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 6/1).
The HELP Committee has expressed intentions to begin marking up a reform bill on June 16, according to a copy of the panel's timeline circulated last week.
As for the House's schedule for health reform, Hoyer said, "We hope to pass health care reform by August," adding, "That is a target, not a deadline" (Edney, CongressDaily, 6/1).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "I'm not blowing smoke, ... [reform] is coming together." He also said, "There are lots of moving parts here, and everything is on the table. One challenge is education, getting people up to speed, and the other is keeping everybody together, talking together, working together. Now the rubber is going to start meeting the road." Baucus added, "We're going to have to start making choices" (Page, USA Today, 6/1).
According to CongressDaily, some of the "tough decisions" lawmakers will face in the next few weeks include:
- Whether reform legislation would establish a new public insurance plan -- and how such an option would function;
- Whether employers would be required to provide health insurance; and
- How reform would be funded.
Sources say lawmakers also are considering "bestowing much of the decision-making authority" for reform on a department such as HHS, or a new body, according to CongressDaily.
Such a group could provide details for the proposals lawmakers devise or could be instructed by lawmakers to find savings that would help fund reform (CongressDaily, 6/1).
Potentially complicating the timeline for health reform legislation are lawmakers' busy schedules for the remaining months of the 2009 session. They are expected to:
- Consider a climate change bill;
- Hold confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court; and
- Finish work on annual spending measures.
Don Stewart, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said, "It is pretty clear that both sides have a lot they want to get done in a limited amount of time on issues that don't yet have a lot of consensus."
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, "This is where the rubber meets the road." He added, "Nobody is underestimating the steep incline of this," but "there has been a high level of confidence building on the capability and capacity of the Congress because it has hit every major legislative mark to date" (Hulse, New York Times, 6/1).
MandatesOn Sunday, NPR's "All Things Considered" reported on the challenges of passing a health care overhaul that would require people or employers to purchase health insurance at a time when many individuals and businesses are struggling to control costs (Brown, "All Things Considered," NPR, 5/31). 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.