Timeline for Health Legislation Slips As HELP, Finance Committees Hit Snags
Senators delayed work Wednesday on one health care reform bill and hit partisan roadblocks on another as key lawmakers insisted they are still on track to have a bill on the floor by the middle of summer, The Washington Post reports.
"(B)ut some Democrats privately acknowledged that piecing together a measure that will expand coverage to the uninsured without breaking the budget is proving excruciatingly difficult -- particularly if the goal is to pass a bill with Republican support."
The Senate Finance Committee has "agreed 'to slow things down' and that committee action could be delayed until after the Fourth of July recess," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said. "The Finance Committee package is eagerly awaited, because lawmakers, lobbyists and reform advocates believe that panel has the best chance of producing a measure that can win broad support." The committee is considering taxing employer-provided health benefits with premiums of more than $17,000 a year beginning in 2013.
"Delicate deal-making also was going on behind the scenes at the White House, where administration officials were talking to drugmakers about voluntarily expanding prescription-drug benefits for Medicare recipients, a move that could win over skeptical seniors as well as their representatives in Congress, said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md."
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was bogged down in partisan wrangling Wednesday as it considered its own bill. "Pointing to the 600-plus page bill and 388 amendments, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it would be 'a joke if we run through this stack of papers.'" HELP aides remain confident they will be able to move ahead on the bill (Montgomery, 6/18).
The Associated Press: "If things keep going the way they did Wednesday, it doesn't bode well for President Barack Obama's goal of signing legislation this fall to rein in spiraling health costs and extend care to 50 million uninsured Americans ... The most contentious issues - whether to create a new public plan to compete with the private market, and whether to require employers to cover their workers - (are) still unwritten. The legislation would create a new insurance marketplace where people could shop for coverage plans with help from government subsidies" (Werner, 6/18).
Unusual harmony that existed for months among all stakeholders has dissipated, Politico reports: "'The bill we have been presented with is so flawed that it cannot be fixed and we need to start over,' Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said" (Brown and Isenstadt, 6/17).
CQPolitics notes that the HELP markup was in the Russell Senate Office Building's Caucus Room, rife with history, "(b)ut Wednesday's session got no further than senators' opening statements. A spokesman for committee Democrats said debate on amendments would begin Thursday."
"Walking out of a morning session of the markup, Orrin G. Hatch , R-Utah, could be heard muttering, 'Have you ever seen anything as ridiculous as this?' Hatch urged the committee to slow down. 'Why are we rushing so much? What are we trying to hide?' he said" (Armstrong, 6/17).
White House Secretary Robert Gibbs told The Los Angeles Times that the administration didn't feel there had been any setbacks in the schedule (Levey, 6/17).
In the meantime, the Congressional Budget Office's scores for the bills have slowed down the process of bill consideration, Time reports. "The first thing to bend in the face of this new realization is the accelerated, ambitious schedule that key committees have set for themselves" (Tumulty, 6/18).
Roll Call: "In particular, the preliminary cost of the HELP bill - more than $1 trillion - caused many Democrats, including Baucus, to take a second look at where the Finance bill was headed. Baucus decided to have the CBO score the full legislation before pressing forward with a markup. 'These numbers are not all in yet. We have to wait until we get some of these numbers as Senators make up their minds on policy,' Baucus said. 'So, they're just taking time here.' Republicans, who have complained recently about the pace of negotiations, were pleased to see Baucus take a step back" (Drucker 6/18).
Politico reports that the CBO numbers could be a game-changer: "As CBO estimates about the high cost of the health care proposal emerge in coming months, Republicans will continue to pound Democrats about the impact on the deficit - the one issue on which the GOP finally seems to be gaining some political traction. And if the long-term CBO cost estimates climb too high, Republicans might be able to prevent Democrats from using the budget reconciliation process to protect health care from a filibuster in the fall" (Zelizer, 6/18).
Dow Jones Newswires reports that the CBO numbers also brought the question of an employer mandate front and center after it was learned that under "an early version of the (Finance) committee's bill, 10 to 15 million individuals would drop their employer-based health insurance coverage to enroll in Medicaid or a new, public insurance plan. Finance lawmakers are also searching for ways to reduce the cost of the $1.6 trillion set of proposals" (Vaughan, 6/17).
CBS News: "'We're concerned that the plan requirements will be so robust that our members' plans won't meet those requirements,' said Jeri Kubicki, the National Association of Manufacturers' vice president for human resources policy" (6/17).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.