President Huddles With Senate Democrats on Health Overhaul
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats gathered at a private White House luncheon with President Obama to discuss strategies on moving forward with health reform legislation, McClatchy/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Lightman/Douglas, McClatchy/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/5).
Obama said that lawmakers should continue to seek a bipartisan agreement on legislation but left open the possibility that legislation could be passed without Republicans' support if necessary.
Obama also said he will respond swiftly to Republican attacks on Democrats' reform plans (Pear/Herszenhorn, New York Times, 8/5).
According to CQ Politics, the meeting was "clearly designed to get Democrats working from a common playbook" with a coordinated message about their reform efforts, and to prepare for potential "blistering attacks" from Republicans during the Senate's August recess, which begins on Friday (Hunter, CQ Politics, 8/4).
Following the meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "We talked about how we coordinate, explain to people, what's actually in this bill and why it does help American people and counter some of the shrill complaints from the woeful band on the other side" (Edney/Friedman, CongressDaily, 8/5).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "There was absolute unity" during the discussions with Obama, adding, "Different ideas were expressed, but every idea was that we understand that before year's end we're going to get comprehensive health care reform" (Loven, AP/Miami Herald, 8/4).
Reid said, "Everyone recognizes that we are going to do, if there's any way possible, a bipartisan bill" (Zengerle/Smith, Reuters, 8/4).
Democratic leaders in the Senate have been requesting more specific guidance on what they should include in their bills, but Obama reportedly did not offer such guidance at the meeting, according to the New York Times (New York Times, 8/5).
Obama and the senators also did not discuss the bill's cost, which has been estimated to be at least $900 billion over 10 years (McClatchy/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/5).
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said key issues discussed at the meeting, such as cost reduction and insurance system reform, point "to what we want to accomplish and so, therefore, I think they are also going to be key talking points during the recess" (CongressDaily, 8/5).
Talk of Reconciliation Process Gets Louder
During the lunch meeting, Obama told the senators that they should be prepared to advance reform legislation without the support of Republicans, according to Baucus.
Baucus said, "[Obama] said, 'I know Max agrees with me, we may get to a point where we're going to have to make other decisions and go in a different direction'" (Young, The Hill, 8/4).
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said that pushing health reform through using the reconciliation process has been discussed only as a final option. He said, "It is an option, but it's not a first option," adding, "We want to try bipartisanship, but we're not going to let this go down."
Baucus -- who has been negotiating a bill with a bipartisan group of six committee members -- later said, "If it gets to the point where we can't get an agreement on a bipartisan basis, then we'll have to look at other alternatives. I mean, we all agree that that's necessary. We can't keep talking forever."
While the group in recent days has been divided over a deadline to complete work on the bill, Baucus noted, "We need an internal deadline and we will have one" (CQ Politics, 8/4).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.