Senior Congressional Democrats told ABC News today it is highly unlikely that a health care reform bill will be completed this year, just a week after President Barack Obama declared he was "absolutely confident" he'll be able to sign one by then.
"Getting this done by the by the end of the year is a no-go," a senior Democratic leadership aide told ABC News. Two other key Congressional Democrats also told ABC News the same thing.
This may come as an unwelcome surprise for the White House, where officials from the president on down have repeatedly said the health care bill would be signed into law by the end of the year.
"I am absolutely confident that we are going to get health care done by the end of this year, and Nancy Pelosi is just as confident," Obama said Oct. 27 at a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi may still be confident -- and her spokesman Brendan Daly said today, "We are going to get our part done" -- but the reason for the delay can be found in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has yet to release the bill he eventually plans to bring to the Senate floor. Reid is still waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to come up with an estimated cost of several possible variations of his bill before deciding which one to introduce in the Senate.
That cost estimate, Democrats tell ABC News, is not expected until next week.
Asked directly by ABC News, "Will you pass health care reform this year?" Reid pointedly did not answer "yes."
Instead, he replied, "We are not going to be bound by any timetables," adding, "We are going to do this as quickly as we can."
The delay is causing some frustration among Reid's fellow Democrats, but Reid said of his colleagues, "They want us to do this the right way, not the fast way."
After Reid made his comments, his spokesman said the goal remains getting a health care bill passed by the end of the year.
"Our goals remain unchanged," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. "We want to get health insurance reform done this year, and we have unprecedented momentum to achieve that."
The White House has pushed hard to get a bill passed this year, getting it done before the beginning of the Congressional campaign season. But the delay in the Senate will almost certainly push the health care debate into 2010.
The White House has tried to avoid that because passing major legislation in a Congressional election year is considered more difficult.
The best hope, Congressional Democrats now say, is for Democrats to pass Senate and House versions of the health care bill by the end of the year, pushing off House-Senate negotiations for a final bill until January.