Congress, Obama Continue Health Reform Push
"Health care reform takes center stage Thursday as President Obama and top congressional Democrats work behind closed doors to nail down a final agreement," CNN reports. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hosted a "meeting of the entire House Democratic caucus in the morning," while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to hold a news conference that will "build public momentum by framing the issue in more personal terms." Reid told reporters today that he believes progress is being made. "'I really believe the goal we've been seeking for a long time of health care reform is going to be done. We don't have it all worked out yet but we made a lot of progress." According to CNN, "Obama is set to discuss health care in afternoon and evening meetings with African-American and Hispanic members of Congress" (3/11).
The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: During Pelosi's "two-hour, closed-door briefing," she asked Democrats "whether they wanted to vote sooner rather than later on the legislation. They responded with a broad shout of 'Yes!' according to lawmakers coming out of the session." Some issues, including the question about using taxpayers' money for abortions, still need to be worked out, but Pelosi said: "We have enough to move forward." Meanwhile, aides reported that Democratic leaders agreed Wednesday evening during a meeting in Pelosi's office on "scaling back a health-insurance tax that unions object to, and on gradually closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap." They aides also said the lawmakers were not far apart on issues such as including Medicaid funding for states that already provide above-average benefits, and "on improving subsidies that would be available under the plan to help individuals and families pay their premiums" (3/11).
The Associated Press, in a separate story, reported that Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Thursday "that the leadership will try to secure the necessary 216 votes to pass the bill without reworking the divisive abortion provision" (Werner, 3/11).
Business Week/Bloomberg: "Senator Judd Gregg, the Republican lawmaker charged with leading his party's floor fight against legislation to overhaul the health-care system, said today the bill is more likely to pass than fail. The New Hampshire lawmaker, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Democrats' determination to pass the legislation, along with President Barack Obama's focus on the issue, may give them the edge in approving the bill." Gregg was speaking at a National Press Club event sponsored by Health Affairs magazine (Litvan, 3/11).
USA Today's On Politics: Gregg also spoke about reconciliation, saying that bill would be "'a very heavy lift,' ... prone to parliamentary maneuvers and political pressures. 'They wouldn't fail to do so,' he said when asked if Democratic senators would actually renege on their promise [to reconcile both versions of the bill]. 'But they might not be able to do so, and they might not be so sorry about it.'" But he also noted that "the reconciliation measure can't be taken up until the big health-care bill has been signed into law" -- something he has confirmed with the parliamentarian. And some of its provisions "could be subject to the so-called Byrd Amendment" (Page, 3/11).
The WSJ Washington Wire Blog: Gregg also warned House Democrats about being too trusting of their Senate colleagues. His questions dealt with the planned sequencing of legislation and which requires the House to pass the Senate's health bill first. He asked the group at the Health Affairs event "[w]hat's to make senators vote on the package of changes? Even if they promise to do so, their resolve may falter amid stiff Republican opposition" and he added that "Democratic leaders are making 'a pretty big roll of the dice'" (Landers, 3/11).
Meanwhile, The Hill is tracking Democratic health reform votes and also provides its own whip count (Cusack, 3/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.