Senators Squabbling Over Health Bills
"For a brief moment Thursday, Senate Democrats could celebrate. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus suggested for the first time publicly he was hoping for a bipartisan deal to pay for health care reform by the end of the day. The good feelings didn't last long," Politico reports. "Within hours, Baucus (D-Mont.) said the talks were suspended until next week - defying President Barack Obama's request to produce an agreement by the weekend and throwing into doubt any hopes of meeting the president's August deadline to pass a Senate bill." And Baucus "had to call the White House and apologize for saying earlier in the day that Obama's resistance to taxing employer health benefits 'is not helping us' get a bill."
"Though Baucus said there would be no deal Thursday night, he remained 'very confident' the committee will get one soon. The committee's top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said the negotiators still have 'tough issues out there that we have to resolve.' Finance Committee aides said the three-day break shouldn't be interpreted as an ominous sign," and staff will work through the weekend. "But in waiting until next week to resume negotiations, Baucus flouted the president's timeline, deciding he could push the process a little longer because he holds the leverage as the only lawmaker in Congress right now who is close to a bipartisan deal." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "said earlier Thursday that he wants to open the floor debate July 27, giving the Finance Committee 10 days to strike a deal, hold a markup and merge the its bill with one approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which would be warp-speed pace by Senate standards. Reid's insistence on moving to the debate so quickly has raised speculation that he could move ahead with or without Baucus' bill" (Brown, 7/16).
"As a divided Senate tangles over health care legislation, there is bipartisan consensus on one point: Ted Kennedy could make a big difference, if only he were here," The New York Times reports. "Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, has not been on Capitol Hill since April. Colleagues routinely lament his absence, which has been especially painful to Mr. Kennedy, the committee chairman, who has spent much of his career trying to expand health coverage." Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Kennedy "would lend a kind of gravitas to the issue that we're kind of missing right now." And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's bill is "a very one-sided, very liberal bill I know that Ted would not have done that had he been able to be here."
"Senators of both parties say the health care debate is entering its most acute phase - with multiple committees in the House and Senate trying to forge compromises - a period Mr. Harkin called 'Kennedy time' ... 'Let me say something that's very obvious,' said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. 'If Kennedy were here, it would make melding the Finance Committee bill and the HELP Committee bill much easier'" (Leibovich, 7/16).
CNBC interviewed Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., about their response to the House bill, which would add new surtax on the wealthy. Sen. Barrasso notes that "I do think that we'll be a little saner in the Senate. I do not think this is the kind of thing that will come out of the Senate." Sen. Corker added that "up until about a week ago, I felt like there might be a bipartisan solution. You know there's about 80 percent of the thing that we actually have some agreement on. I feel a train wreck coming" (Kudlow, 7/16).
NPR spoke with Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Ut., who "say they are committed to working together." Asked whether he needs any Republican votes to pass a health care bill in the HELP committee, Dodd said " I always think that's worthwhile, not just because it's - may help you pass the bill, but also sustaining what you're doing for a number of years. It's an important element. I would say the most important goal is to get a good bill. And if you can get a bipartisan bill, all the better. But our objective is to get a good bill" (Inskeep, 7/16).