Federal Healthcare Update

July 24, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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The Senate
As many have long suspected, Democratic leadership in the Senate yesterday announced that there would not be a vote on health care legislation before the August recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D‑NV) said on Thursday, “It’s a complex, difficult issue. I think it’s better to have a product that is one based on quality and thoughtfulness, rather than pushing something through.” The leadership’s admission that health care votes would have to be delayed in the Senate is a major blow to President Obama’s preferred timeline for health care reform.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) welcomed the delay of the vote, saying that the relaxed timeline would give his Committee more time to work toward a bipartisan deal. However, Sen. Baucus continues to stress his commitment to finishing the Committee’s markup before August 7th, the last day the Senate will be in session. This was confirmed by Sen. Reid, who said he also expects the Finance Committee to finish the bill before the recess, and that he will spend the break helping merge the bill with the HELP bill.  However, a key Committee Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) recent statement that he would no longer be participating in the bipartisan talks is a setback for the negotiations.
The House
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) was in talks today with the Blue Dog Democrats on his Committee, searching for a compromise that would allow the stalled Energy and Commerce Committee markup of the Tri-Committee Bill to move forward. However, those talks fell apart this afternoon, according to Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), the chief negotiator on health care for the Blue Dogs making a markup before the House recess more unlikely than ever. 
In light of this, the latest reports indicate that House leadership is considering bypassing the Energy and Commerce Committee altogether and moving the bill to the floor without a completed markup. Although Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has not confirmed or denied that this is a possibility, recent meetings between the chairs of the three Committees involved in the bill and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) indicate that this possibility may be moving forward. As House Rules Committee Chair, Rep. Slaughter’s help would be necessary to make such a move.
The Blue Dogs released a list of their top ten priorities yesterday, which include adjusting the value and cost of subsidy levels, negotiated rates for the public plan, increased small business exemption, and effectively bending the cost curve.  Today, Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee put out a list of their top priorities. The list includes some overlap with the Blue Dog list, but also includes items such as no government plan, limiting medical liability, and requiring Members of Congress, as well as the President and Vice President to enroll in the public plan.
The Administration
President Obama continues to campaign for health care reform, holding a prime time news conference on Wednesday followed up with a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio. As late as Wednesday Obama was still pushing his August deadline for bills to be passed by both the House and Senate, but since then he has walked this requirement back a bit, saying that the overall goal is to get a bill done by the end of the year.