Senate Finance Committee Won’t Vote On Reform Bill Before Recess
Just one day after it appeared negotiators were on the cusp of a deal, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus said Thursday that his committee will not vote on a health reform bill before the August recess, Politico reports. "Baucus's announcement came after a day in which Republican negotiators on the committee made clear they were not comfortable with the Democratic timetable - pushed by President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders."
"In the Senate, weeks of regular, near-daily bipartisan negotiations on the Finance Committee stalled, as the three Republicans and three Democrats did not meet for most of the day. Baucus worked throughout the day to hold together his fragile bipartisan coalition. They had reconvened by the evening and emerged after 45 minutes to say they were committed to the talks" (Brown and Frates, 7/30).
The Wall Street Journal: "After [a] meeting of top members of the panel, which has wide jurisdiction over health policy, Sen. Baucus (D., Mont.) vowed to work into next week to narrow differences with top Republicans. But the chairman said the committee would not be convened next week, when the full Senate is scheduled to debate the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court" (Hitt, 7/31).
Bloomberg: "The Senate finance panel is struggling to reach consensus on issues such as whether to set up a government-run insurance program, whether to require that employers offer coverage and how to pay for the most sweeping changes in the nation's health-care system in more than four decades" (Litvan and Jensen, 7/31).
"Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said the bipartisan group of six negotiators will meet, even if by videoconference, over the recess, CongressDaily reports. "'If we speed this thing up to have it done by next weekend, it's a train wreck,' Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ranking member Michael Enzi said. The bipartisan talks appeared close to breaking down Thursday after a morning meeting of the group of six was canceled and (Sen. Mike) Enzi (of Wyoming) and Finance ranking member Charles Grassley (of Iowa) met with House Minority Whip [Eric] Cantor instead" (Edney, 7/31).
Roll Call reports that Grassley and Enzi met with Cantor to "dispel rumors that a bipartisan compromise was about to be released" (Kucinich, Drucker and Heflin, 7/30).
The GOP is being accused of trying to slow the talks, saying they're being "rushed," The Washington Post reports: "Earlier Thursday, two of the GOP lawmakers, (Grassley and Enzi), bristled at pressure from Democratic leaders to complete work on the bill by Aug. 7, when the Senate departs for a month-long recess. Asked if the talks had collapsed, Enzi said, 'I hope not.' But 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'" (Murray and Kane, 7/31).
The Hill: "Grassley has assured his GOP colleagues that he will not sell them out and strike a private deal with Democrats on healthcare reform, according to Republican senators." Enzi made a similar pronouncement, but "Grassley's words had the most impact, easing the anxieties of conservatives who feared the unpredictable Iowa senator would give Democrats the crucial bipartisan support needed to pass a $1 trillion healthcare package of Democratic priorities" (Bolton, 7/30).
National Journal devotes much of its new issue to health care and, in its cover story, reports: "As they prepare for what may be their ultimate test, Senate Republicans are sticking with the game plan that has served them well this year. They are offering policy-based critiques and alternatives to Democratic health proposals. They are looking for openings that might undercut an inexperienced but popular new president, without getting too personal. And in the process, they are trying to rebuild a beleaguered Republican Party by leveling their arguments from the right (Simendinger, 8/1).
In the meantime, Senate Democrats are blaming the media for creating the August deadline for reform in the first place, The Hill reports in a second story: "(Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid (D-Nev.) said reporters created a fictitious deadline of a successful vote by the August recess, and downplayed the fact that the chamber won't meet that mark. 'That is a deadline that you created,' Reid told a group of about 75 reporters. 'It's not like we don't have a product. Significant progress has been made. The mere 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, 7/30).