Washington House Democrats methodically pushed ahead with a compromise health overhaul Thursday over liberals’ complaints, intent on achieving tangible — if modest — success on President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority ahead of a monthlong summer recess.
“We’ve got to pass the bill. Not only do we have to, but we’re going to,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the last of three House committees to act on the sweeping legislation.
Across the Capitol, there was more delay as bipartisan Senate negotiators announced they needed additional time to produce any agreement for their committee to review.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman on the Finance Committee, said it would be September before the panel could act. He spoke after a day of uncertainty in which months of negotiations briefly appeared to veer off-course.
“The president, Leader (Harry) Reid and I share the goal of a bipartisan bill and we will continue to work toward meaningful, bipartisan legislation that can pass the Senate and become law this year,” Baucus said in a statement.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the lead Republican in the talks, said earlier that the discussions have made very good progress and may result in a deal. “But that’ll never happen if Democrat leaders tell Republicans to take a hike by forcing the committee to move on an all-Democrat bill,” he said.
Reid said that August deadlines were a product of the media, rather than lawmakers or the White House.
Republicans swiftly produced a rebuttal, in the form of statements from Obama as well as Reid underscoring the importance of action by early August.
Both chambers already had jettisoned plans for floor votes before the summer break, but Democrats had hoped to get bills out of the final House and Senate committees that had yet to act.
That would have allowed Democrats to show clear momentum when they returned to their home districts and states in August, so the news out of the Senate Finance Committee was a setback.
But in the House Waxman’s committee resumed work Thursday, with the goal of finishing today, after a week-and-a-half delay caused by objections from fiscally conservative Democrats. That rebellion was quelled at least temporarily with an agreement Wednesday that would protect more small businesses from a requirement to provide insurance to their employees, and restructure a new public insurance plan so it could pay higher rates to doctors and other providers, among other changes.
But the concessions Waxman made to the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats infuriated House liberals. They denounced the proposed new structure of the government-run insurance option, which was originally designed to be based on Medicare rates. The new structure says rates would be negotiated with providers as occurs now with private companies, which could result in more expensive care.
“This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards,” 57 Progressive Caucus members said in a letter to House leaders Thursday. “Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates — not negotiated rates — is unacceptable.”