Senate Finance Leader Says Panel Won’t Vote on Reform Before Recess
On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that his committee will not release a final health care reform bill in time for markup before the Senate adjourns for a month-long recess beginning Aug. 7, the Wall Street Journal reports.
He added that the committee will not meet next week because the full Senate is scheduled to discuss the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor (Hitt, Wall Street Journal, 7/31).
After meeting with the Finance Committee's six-member bipartisan negotiating group, Baucus said that they have not reached a consensus on the bill but that they "are committed to finding a bipartisan solution as expeditiously as possible." He added, "We talked out the agenda, the issues. ... We are committed to a full session next week -- every day of next week," noting, "It's clear there will not be a markup next week" (Drucker/Pierce, Roll Call, 7/30).
However, the delay could put added pressure on Baucus and other Senate Democratic leaders "to jettison bipartisan talks and move forward without Republican support," according to Reuters (Smith/Dixon, Reuters, 7/30). T
he wait also calls into question whether final legislation will be completed by President Obama's October deadline.
According to CQ Today, it will be "almost impossible" to meet that deadline as the Finance bill must first be approved by the full committee and merged with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's bill.
Senate legislation must then be reconciled with a House bill in a conference committee for clearance between Labor Day and Oct. 1 (Wayne, CQ Today, 7/30).
Republican Members Weigh In
"Sensing that they were being maneuvered into a deadline" from Democratic leaders and media reports that the bipartisan negotiating group was close to a consensus on the final bill, two Republican members of the group -- Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.) -- "rebelled," the Washington Post reports.
Grassley said, "It'll be a lost opportunity if Democratic leaders in Congress and the administration force action on health care legislation that's not ready because of the complexity of the issue and the high stakes in getting it right" (Murray/Kane, Washington Post, 7/31).
Grassley added the bipartisan group has made "very good progress" that "could lead to a bill that makes things better, not worse, but that'll never happen if Democratic leaders tell Republicans to take a hike by forcing the committee to move on an all-Democrat bill" (Budoff Brown/Frates, Politico, 7/30).
Enzi said, "If we speed this thing up to have it done by next weekend, it's a train wreck" (Edney, CongressDaily, 7/30). He added, "We're being rushed. Deadlines in this thing should be irrelevant. Getting it right has to be the relevant issue. ... It is possible to get it right. It just can't be done by next weekend" (Washington Post, 7/31).
According to Politico, sources say the three Republicans on the negotiating panel -- Grassley, Enzi and Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) -- "are under pressure from their leadership not to cut a deal too quickly, ... and that message has been delivered frequently in recent weeks" (Politico, 7/30).
Reid Blames GOP, Media for Delay
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) targeted the media on Capitol Hill for pushing the August deadline for completion of health reform legislation and Republicans for blocking the bill's progress, The Hill reports.
Reid said a Senate vote on a reform bill before the recess was "a deadline [the media] created," adding, "It's not like we don't have a product. Significant progress has been made. ... The fact that this wasn't done by last Friday or by five o'clock doesn't mean we're not going to get a quality product" (Rushing, The Hill, 7/30).
Reid also suggested that Republican Senate leaders are increasing their pressure on Grassley, Enzi and Snowe to reject any deals within the Finance Committee negotiating group, or delay progress on the bill. "No one is harming the process of moving forward on a bill other than the Republican leadership," he said (Pierce, Roll Call, 7/30).
Rockefeller Concerned With Cooperatives
Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has raised issue with the Finance Committee negotiating group potentially replacing a public insurance plan option with health care cooperatives in the reform bill, Time's "Swampland" reports.
Rockefeller said, "There are real concerns about the potential impact of health care co-ops on consumers, and we cannot afford to hang our hat on any unproven, unregulated, or unreliable model for health insurance coverage," adding, "At a minimum, we need to know more of the facts."Rockefeller also has asked the Government Accountability Office to examine the regulation of existing co-ops, and sent similar inquiries to the National Cooperative Business Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Tumulty, "Swampland," Time, 7/30). 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.