Senate Will Not Vote on Health Care Reform Before Recess
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that the Senate will not vote on health care reform legislation by the August recess, saying that it is "better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through," the AP/Boston Globe reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Boston Globe, 7/24).
Reid said that the decision came after Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee requested more time to reach a bipartisan deal on health reform legislation -- a request that Reid said is not "unreasonable" (Hunt/House, CongressDaily, 7/23).
Reid's announcement "highlighted internal Democratic divisions on the legislation and is likely to result in significant changes to the shape of the final bill," as "a more plodding and contentious process" takes hold, the Washington Post reports (Murray et al., Washington Post, 7/24).
According to the New York Times, "the delay will give Republican opponents ample time to highlight what they say are the bill's flaws, and will subject moderate lawmakers ... to a barrage of questions, including whether the nation can afford the $1 trillion, 10-year price tag" (Herszenhorn/Zeleny, New York Times, 7/24).
Lawmakers Support Delay
A number of senators expressed no concern about the delay, saying that it will not stop health care reform from being passed by the end of the year.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "So, the plan is going to be out there for a period of time, and it's going to have to stand the test of the public as well. I'm not worried. It should be out there, and maybe the plan is modified." He added, "The whole goal has always been to have the president sign it by the end of the year," and so the Senate remains "on track" (Rushing, The Hill, 7/23).
Addressing concerns that the August recess will be filled with lobbying campaigns by opponents, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said, "That would've been the case either way," adding, "August was always out there for the naysayers to drum up opposition."
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said, "I think it's probably a good thing" that the legislation was delayed because "it's important I read the whole bill, go home and talk to my constituents about it, and then come back prepared to vote" (Jansen/Wayne, CQ Today, 7/23).
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said, "I am very pleased my Democrat colleagues have now rejected the president's strategy to force through a bad bill before anyone has had a chance to even read it."
According to the Post, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Thursday assured Senate leaders that his committee will complete work on the legislation before the recess.
Reid said that over the break he will work with White House officials and other Democrats to merge the Finance Committee bill with legislation from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (Washington Post, 7/24).
Meanwhile, the House on Thursday moved forward with negotiations over its health reform legislation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she is still pressing for a floor vote by the end of July but did not rule out delaying the vote until September (Oliphant/Parsons, Los Angeles Times, 7/24).
Obama Administration Reacts to Delay
Speaking at a town-hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio, President Obama said that the Senate delay is "OK. I just want people to keep on working" (Washington Post, 7/24).
Obama said, "As long as I see folks working diligently and consistently, I am comfortable with moving a process forward that builds as much consensus as possible" (New York Times, 7/24).
He added that "delay for the sake of delay" or "delay because people are worried about making tough decisions or casting tough votes" is unacceptable. However, he said that he has no problems with the delay "if people are legitimately working out tough problems" and "making sure that we get it right" (Condon, CongressDaily, 7/24).
Obama said, "Our target date is to get this done by the fall. That's the bottom line" (Youngman, The Hill, 7/23).
Following a meeting with the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "This is not about beating the clock" (Armstrong/Wayne, CQ Politics, 7/24).
Groups React to Announcement
On Thursday, Nancy LeaMond, AARP's executive vice president, issued a statement criticizing the delay. She said, "AARP is disappointed in the failure to reach agreement on passing comprehensive health care reform until after the August recess," adding that "millions of people impacted by high drug costs and those that can't get adequate health insurance because of age or a pre-existing condition need help now. An August of waiting will not lower costs, increase access or improve quality."
Meanwhile, John Emling, senior vice president of government affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, released a statement saying that the group "applauds the decision of Senate leaders to move deliberatively on health care legislation," adding that "[w]ith so much at stake, careful consideration of all benefits and consequences must be paramount to arbitrary deadlines" (Ackley, Roll Call, 7/23).
On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she is hesitant to move forward on health care reform until lawmakers develop a plan to pay for the overhaul, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Reiterating concerns from fiscally conservative Democrats, Feinstein said health care reform could compound the swell of the federal deficit. She added that health insurance subsidies for low-income populations could create a costly entitlement program such as Medicare or Medicaid.
Feinstein said she recognizes the need for health reform, but wants President Obama to lay out an explicit strategy to fund his proposals.
She said, "The specifics of that need to get laid out in a crystal-clear, uncomplicated manner. I'm ready for people to come and say, 'Look, here's our plan to cover 46 million uninsured people, and here's how we pay for it: A, B, C, D. That has to happen" (Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/24).
PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Thursday reported on the delay of health care reform legislation. The report featured a discussion with:
- Troy Tippett, president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons;
- Health care economist Stuart Altman; and
- Chris Jennings, senior health policy adviser to former President Clinton (Bowser/Woodruff, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 7/23).