White House Keeps Health Care Debate Alive

Senate delays, but Obama continues health care meetings, pushing for House vote.

July 24, 2009, 11:40 AM

July 24, 2009— -- Though the Senate has delayed a vote on health care reform until the fall, President Obama will continue health care meetings with Senate Democrats today, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the House is planning to vote on the issue next week.

Asked about the House's timetable during a Thursday night interview with National Public Radio, Emanuel said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told fellow Democratic lawmakers that "their intention is to go next week, and she is working toward that goal."

Today at the White House Obama will discuss health care with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, both Democrats.

Asked Thursday about the Senate's decision to delay a vote on health care legislation until after beyond the August deadline he had originally set, the president said he wasn't disappointed.

"That's OK," Obama said at a town hall meeting Thursday at Shaker High School in Cleveland. "I just want people to keep on working. Just keep working."

"I want it done by the end of this year," Obama added. "I want it done by the fall."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today that the White House no longer expects a bill to be signed before the lawmakers' August recess, but that the push for reform will continue Gibbs said no one involved in health care reform planning meetings has opted to take August off, and that Obama will travel to North Carolina and Virginia next week to hold health care events.

On Thursday, Reid, D-Nev., laid out new plans, saying the Senate Finance Committee would vote on its pieces of the measure before the Aug. 7 break, and he would then work on marrying that bill with the proposal to come out of a separate Senate health panel.

Reid said the Senate would consider the soon-to-be-merged bill shortly after the Senate returns Sept. 7.

Reid said he's honoring the requests of Republicans asking for more time.

"The decision was made to give them more time for the Finance Committee part of what we're trying to do, and I don't think it's unreasonable," he said.

"It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness than trying to jam something through," Reid added.

Emanuel told NPR that Capitol Hill committees are getting close to the light at the end of the tunnel. "You're basically three-fifths of the way there, in the sense of committee work, in getting this done," he said.

President Obama Willing to Wait on Health Care Bill

Obama said Thursday that he's willing to wait until fall, or even the end of the year to get a comprehensive health care bill passed.

"My attitude is, I want to get it right, but I also want to get it done promptly," Obama said. "And so as long as I see folks working diligently and consistently, then I am comfortable with moving a process forward that builds as much consensus as possible."

Obama's remarks came shortly after the Senate announced it would not vote on a health care bill before Congress' August recess.

As the Senate announced its plans Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that a House bill is on schedule.

"I am not afraid of August," Pelosi said, though it's looking more and more likely there could be a delay in the House as well. Pelosi insisted she has the votes to pass the bill but wouldn't say when that would be.

The chief concerns among Democrats include the costs to overhaul the program and tax increases on the wealthy.

Pelosi admitted there were issues that needed to be resolved but expressed confidence that they could be ironed out in the next 48 hours.

To do so, she'll need to resolve a deadlock between moderate Blue Dog Democrats and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in the House Energy and Commerce committee. Pelosi had a contentious closed-door meeting Thursday with her Democratic caucus about whether or not the measure needs more time. The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said Thursday that the House should not go into recess until passing the bill.

Citing the "more than 130 national organizations," including the American Medical Association, that have backed Obama on his health care plan, Pelosi plugged reform as "probably the single most important initiative we can take to turn our economy around."

"I am very confident that we will be on schedule and we will be able to present a wonderful gift to the American people -- gift of confidence and of peace of mind," she said in a news conference.

Republicans also continue to step up their counteroffensive. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, repeated his calls for a new bill, saying that lawmakers should throw out the bill and start fresh.

There are currently four different bills circulating in Congress.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Rachel Martin, Jon Garcia, Huma Khan and Alice Gomstyn contributed to this report.

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