Obama Calls for Bipartisanship, Swift Action on Health Reform
President Obama on Thursday told a group of six Senate Finance Committee members to continue working toward a bipartisan consensus on health reform legislation, but stressed the need to pass reform this year, Roll Call reports (Pierce, Roll Call, 8/6).
Emerging from the hour long meeting, committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told reporters, "[Obama] wants us to keep working together," adding, "He prefers a bipartisan agreement, I do, and I think most members of the Democratic caucus do, too, and it's just a question of how we get there" (Smith/Frank, Reuters, 8/6).
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) -- chair of the Senate Budget Committee -- said the discussion focused on several policy topics being considered for the Finance Committee's bill, including a Medicaid expansion, affordability provisions and limits on out-of-pocket costs, deductibles and copayments. The committee also must find financing mechanisms for the bill. Conrad declined to comment on the president's stance on those issues, according to CQ Politics.
He said, "[Obama] made clear his concern about Medicaid expansion being done in a way that was coordinated carefully with the governors," adding that "affordability had to be very sensitive to what the burden is on people. We've got to make certain that people are better off because of this than they are before."
Obama also asked group members how he could assist them with their negotiations, according to Conrad. "I think the single most important thing [Obama] can do is continue to stress how critically important this is for the country. Failure is simply not an option," Conrad said (Wayne, CQ Politics, 8/6).
Reconciliation Not 'Preferred' Course
According to Roll Call, Conrad confirmed that the meeting included a brief discussion about whether Senate Democrats would invoke reconciliation if negotiations and progress on the reform legislation stall. That option is "not a preferred alternative," Conrad said.
In his daily media briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would prefer a bipartisan bill, adding, "It means the president is interested in doing this first and foremost by regular order" (Pierce, Roll Call, 8/6).
Gibbs also declined to say whether Obama would sign health reform legislation that does not include a public plan option.
According to The Hill, the Senate Finance Committee is "reportedly close to passing" a proposal that eliminates the option.
Gibbs said Obama "is focused on making sure the process goes forward at this point," adding, "I'm not going to start drawing those lines in the sand today" (Youngman, The Hill, 8/6).
Senators Reiterate Goal of Bipartisanship, Swift Completion of Bill
Earlier on Thursday in a meeting with reporters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) painted the use of reconciliation by Democrats only as a final option, adding, "We're not even discussing that. We believe health care should be bipartisan."
Baucus said he plans to keep working toward a Sept. 15 deadline for completing a bipartisan bill, adding, "We'll take stock when we get back, and at that point, if things are going great, fine. And if not, then we may have to go in some other direction" (Pierce, Roll Call, 8/6). He said the negotiating group has settled on a tentative schedule to conduct teleconference meetings over the recess, with additional in-person meetings (Drucker, Roll Call, 8/6).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.