Dems Waver on Obama's August Health Care Deadline

With discussions continuing in Congress, Obama highlights commonalities in bills

ByABC News
July 21, 2009, 7:56 AM

July 21, 2009— -- President Obama may have ratcheted up his rhetoric on health care reform, but late today it appeared Democratic support was wavering for the president's goal of passing health care bills in the House and Senate before the August recess.

"Members have concerns, and they're not just Blue Dogs," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters today, referring to the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats. "I want to make it very clear that there's progressives, Blue Dogs and everybody in between who have expressed concerns, and we're working on that."

Hoyer said there is still disagreement about proposed tax increases on the wealthy and the option of a government-run insurance program that would compete with private plans.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., expressed similar concerns over Obama's August deadline. "No one wants to tell the Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] that she's moving too fast and they damn sure don't want to tell the president," Rangel told another lawmaker, according to The Associated Press.

On the other end of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has consistently said that a bill will be passed in the Senate by the August recess, today shifted his tone, telling reporters, "The goal is not deadlines; the goal is comprehensive health care reform."

Reid said today that Obama is the quarterback when it comes to reforming the health care system. "He's been calling the plays," he told reporters.

Reid said he hopes that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., will come up with a bill by the end of the week, but Baucus appeared non-committal.

"I don't have any deadlines; I've never had any deadlines," Baucus said today.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said finance committee negotiators are mindful of the time it is taking to hammer out a deal, but he added that, "there is such an interest in this deadline and that deadline" that it is not useful.

Conrad told reporters that today's talks have focused on the potential impact of making health insurance mandatory for employers and individuals. He said he still hopes to find a way to pay for health reform from the $2.5 trillion pool of uncollected revenue the federal government leaves on the table by not taxing benefits.

Senators on the finance committee are expected to continue working late tonight to sort out details.

Even the White House today indicated that the president may have to shift his deadline.

Asked if the White House believes health care reform legislation won't get done if the August deadline is missed, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded, "I don't think that's the case."

"I think, as the president enunciated pretty clearly yesterday, a lot doesn't tend to happen in this town without some poking and some prodding, which generally manifests itself in deadlines," Gibbs said. "This is just part of the process. We're going to come back here after the August break and still have work to do on health care."

This afternoon, Obama met with lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including some fiscally conservative Democrats opposed to some measures in the proposed bills, to discuss health care reform.

Obama today laid out the common points among different health care plans being debated in the House and Senate, and once again dismissed growing criticism from opponents as "familiar Washington script we've seen many times before."

"Make no mistake. We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we're going to get the job done," Obama said in the familiar firm tone that has marked his rhetoric in recent days as health care has become his top national priority.

Hailing the support of nurses and doctors organizations on his health care plan and urging Congress to "build on the common ground and do the hard work," the president spoke about the commonalities among different bills circulating in Congress.

"We've forged a level of consensus on health care that has never been reached in the history of this country," the president said.

Obama said he wants a bill that expands coverage, improves quality and brings down costs.

He reiterated that Americans who like their current health plans will be able to keep them, a key point of criticism among those who say that a government-run insurance plan will stifle competition. The president touted the public option plan that's included in both the House Democrats' bill and the the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee bill, saying it would "keep insurance companies honest, ensuring the competition necessary to make coverage affordable."

"I am deeply invested in getting this thing done," Obama said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show Tuesday. "This isn't Washington sport, this isn't about who's up and who's down. This is about solving an enormous problem for the American people."

The president admitted that the administration still needs to figure out ways to pay the extra costs that would come with overhauling the system.

Many conservative Democrats and Republicans have rallied against a tax on the wealthy to pay for health care.

The president was noncommittal on that front, only saying that, "I think that ultimately what we're going to have is a package which will probably include some additional revenue from well-to-do people, including me and you, who can afford to pay a little bit more so that working families, people who are going to their job every single day, can have a little more security on their health care."