Democrats Shun Health Reform Deadlines As They Await State Of The Union
Democrats Tuesday backed away from setting or adhering to a health overhaul timeline "saying they no longer felt pressure to move quickly on a health bill after eight months of setting deadlines and missing them," The New York Times reports. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made it clear that focus for lawmakers has shifted. "'We're not on health care now,' Mr. Reid said." Reid he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will work out a way to complete the overhaul in the coming months, and Democrats said they don't expect action on the legislation until February. "'There are a number of options being discussed,' he said, emphasizing 'procedural aspects' of the issue" (Herszenhorn and Pear, 1/26).
Reuters: One of those options is using budget reconciliation - a procedure requiring "a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate." But two moderate Senate Democrats facing potentially tough re-election fights -- Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Evan Bayh of Indiana -- said they would oppose that strategy. Bayh said it would 'destroy any prospect for bipartisan cooperation on anything else for the remainder of this year. That would be a regrettable state of affairs and the public would not react well.' But the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, said reconciliation remained an option on healthcare" (Whitesides, 1/26).
Roll Call reports that reconciliation is "gaining steam:" "Although Democrats aren't sure how long it would take or exactly what it would look like, using budget reconciliation rules to drag reform across the finish line is becoming the majority's last hope for achieving a comprehensive bill. One senior Senate Democratic aide said Democratic leaders were trading ideas on what to put into a reconciliation package but that nothing was being translated into legislative text at this point." Writing bill language would likely be delayed "until it is clear Pelosi has the support of enough House Democrats" to advance the plan" (Dennis, Newmyer and Pierce, 1/26).
The Associated Press: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that "Democrats now have four options for moving forward no bill; a scaled-back measure designed to attract some Republican support; the House passing the Senate bill; or the House passing the Senate bill, with both chambers making changes to bridge their differences" (Werner, 1/27).
Politico: Hoyer "said Democrats don't expect a decision on how to proceed before next week, but other lawmakers held out the possibility it could stretch until Congress goes on a break Feb. 12."
Under reconciliation, in the meantime, "Reid could lose nine members of his caucus and still pass the bill, as long as Vice President Joe Biden broke a 50-50 tie. Top Democrats, such as Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, predicted Reid would find enough votes. But a POLITICO survey of senators Tuesday showed Reid could find himself scrounging" (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 1/26).
The Wall Street Journal: "House and Senate leaders say they see no easy options for completing the type of comprehensive overhaul each chamber approved last year. Passing a scaled-down bill would be challenging. Democrats say they want to make it possible for everyone to get health insurance even if they are sick. But forcing insurance companies to offer coverage to all would lead to higher premiums unless other steps were taken to bring healthy people into the pool and offset the risk" (Adamy, 1/27).