Key Senate Panel Struggles To Reach Consensus
"The Senate Finance Committee, which is seeking a bipartisan compromise, has failed to reach an agreement" on health care reform, Bloomberg reports, "even as two House committees and a Senate panel cleared their versions of the legislation with only Democratic approval." The open-ended question of when, and what, the Finance panel will propose, has become the focus of Senators and the administration as the August recess nears with no deal in sight. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance chairman, said a deal could come this week "at the earliest," a month after he originally planed to finalize a version of the bill, Bloomberg reports (Litvan and Jensen, 7/20).
Whether the Senators will arrive at a bipartisan agreement, or even a partisan one with cost-wary Democrats falling in line, could determine whether the Democratic leadership can use special budget rules to fast-track the bill, Roll Call reports. " "Democrats gave themselves a choice this year between keeping the bill open to filibuster - which requires 60 votes to overcome - or using fast-track budget rules, known as reconciliation, to push a measure through with a simple, 51-vote majority.
But the rules governing reconciliation are so complex and restrictive that the Senate Democratic leaders' backup reconciliation plan could become mired in the same 60-vote problem they currently face as liberals, centrists and a handful of Republicans battle it out over the direction of a final Senate bill" (Pierce, 7/20).
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a senior Republican on the Finance Committee, for instance, "is sounding like he's persuaded that taxing high-cost employer-provided health benefits could be an answer to funding health care reform," Politico reports. Hatch also that if the debate drags out, it will become more difficult for the administration to sell the reform proposal to lawmakers because "it's so expensive and costly" (Gerstein, 7/19).
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., another Finance member, rejected the idea of taxing the employer-provided benefits, a proposal President Obama and labor unions have staunchly opposed, even as it has gained traction among some high-ranking Democrats in Congress, Bloomberg reports in a separate story. Schumer also said Democrats would pass a partisan bill in the Finance panel if members fail to reach a bipartisan consensus, and that a "wacky" cost assessment by the Congressional Budget Office wouldn't mean Republican support is out of reach (Litvan, 7/18).