Thursday, February 04, 2010

Congress sacks White House claims of imminent touchdown on health bill

Despite assertions by the White House that Congress remains on the verge of passing health care reform, lawmakers in the House and the Senate have stalled in their efforts to move forward with a bill as they turned their focus to creating jobs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to discuss how to proceed with health care, and he said congressional and White House staff have already been collaborating on a new plan. But, he warned reporters, "Don't pin me down as to days or number of weeks" before a new proposal emerges.

On Sunday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told CNN. "We're still inside the 5-yard line" on health care, in a pronouncement that caught some lawmakers off guard. "I wouldn't think so from a policy and a cost standpoint and what Americans feel about it," Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said of Gibbs' remark. "That defines a huge gulf between the reality on Main Street and the reality in Washington, D.C."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Gibbs' use of the 5-yard line analogy "is fine," but senators did not discuss any new health care strategy at their weekly caucus meeting Tuesday afternoon. "There was a lot of discussion obviously on jobs and what's happening with that," she said.

In the House, leaders were vague. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., promised to disclose a new plan "as soon as a way forward is clear."

Democrats face a logistical and political problem in trying to tackle jobs and health care at once, in part because the health care proposal Democrats favor would raise taxes.

"The Medicare payroll tax is a good example," Snowe said, referring to a provision in the Democratic health care bill that would raise the payroll tax on those with higher incomes. "You can't say on the one hand that everything is OK and we have to work on jobs, then on the other adding to the cost of doing business, because that creates uncertainty."

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate still insist a health care reform bill will pass this year, but even the Senate's more liberal members seem more uncertain of the outcome. "I hope so," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., when asked if he thought health care passage was possible this year.

Kerry said he believed the "best path forward" was for the House to pass the Senate health care plan, after which some changes could be made to the bill in the form of new legislation that the Senate could pass with just 51 votes through a process known as reconciliation. "I don't know if that is achievable," Kerry conceded. "I guess I feel the imperatives of doing nothing are very powerful and therefore I'm hopeful that in the end, common sense is going to win out. But I don't want to put odds on it. This is Washington."


1 comment:

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