presidential campaign manager David Plouffe (rhymes with fluff) returned to the fray last week and
,” that was taken by insiders not as an expression of Plouffe’s personal views, but as a declaration of what the Obama camp were actually seeking. It was a signal that the Health Care War was continuing.
With no clear path forward on major health care legislation, Democratic leaders in Congress effectively slammed the brakes on President Obama’s top domestic priority on Tuesday, saying they no longer felt pressure to move quickly on a health bill [emphasis added; compare to Plouffe’s “pass it without delay”] after eight months of setting deadlines and missing them.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, deflected questions about health care. “We’re not on health care now,” Mr. Reid said. “We’ve talked a lot about it in the past.”
He added, “There is no rush,” [emphasis added; compare to Plouffe’s “pass it without delay”] and noted that Congress still had most of this year to work on the health bills passed in 2009 by the Senate and the House.
Mr. Reid said he and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, were working to map out a way to complete a health care overhaul in coming months.
“There are a number of options being discussed,” he said, emphasizing “procedural aspects” of the issue.
At the same time, two centrist Democrats who are up for re-election this year, Senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Evan Bayh of Indiana, said they would resist efforts to muscle through a health care bill using a parliamentary tactic called budget reconciliation, which seemed to be the easiest way to advance the measure. The White House had said in recent days that it would support that approach.
Some Democrats said they did not expect any action on health care legislation until late February at the earliest.
But the Democrats stand to lose momentum, and every day closer to the November election could reduce their chances of passing a far-reaching bill.
The gear shifting by Democrats underscored how the health care effort had been derailed by the Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election for the Senate last week, which effectively denied Democrats the 60th vote they need to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Originally, Mr. Reid wanted to finish a bill early last August.
The lawmakers’ comments also served to lower expectations for the president’s State of the Union address on Wednesday.
“I would be surprised if he says specifically exactly how he hopes to get health care done,” said the House majority leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland.
Some lawmakers said they expected that Congress would try to adopt a vastly pared-down bill once they returned to the issue.
“Frankly, we’re trying to figure out what is possible,” Mr. Hoyer said. “Senator Reid needs to determine what is possible on his side of the aisle—you know, what kind of support he can get. And we’re trying to figure out as well what we can pass.”
Mr. Hoyer added, “I think by next week we need to come to focus on the way we want to move forward.” [If you don’t have a way forward now, how are you going to have one in a week? It sounds as though he’s conceding it’s over, without coming right out and saying so.]
Speaker Pelosi has said House Democrats will not simply vote to approve the health care bill adopted by the Senate on Dec. 24, and send it directly to Mr. Obama for his signature.
Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said, “We are not passing the Senate bill period.”
Asked if there was a way forward, a Congressional aide who worked closely on the bill replied, “If you find it, let me know.” [Hey, a passable health care bill is like the Twelfth Imam, it’s there, but it’s hidden, and the Dems may have to wait a long, long time, maybe centuries, for it to reveal itself.]
But a plan to win over House members by making changes to the Senate bill in the budget reconciliation process ran into substantial resistance on Tuesday.
Mrs. Lincoln, who faces one of the toughest re-election bids among Democrats, said, “I am opposed to and will fight against any attempts to push through changes to the Senate health insurance reform legislation by using budget reconciliation tactics that would allow the Senate to pass a package of changes to our original bill with 51 votes.”
Mr. Bayh said, “It would destroy the opportunity, if there is one, for any bipartisan cooperation the rest of this year on anything else.” [Ok, now we know what happened that stopped the Obamacrats’ last-ditch effort. As explained by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann in an important and disturbing article the other day, the Obamacrats intended to pursue an insanely complicated, devious, and inappropriate path which had budget reconciliation at its core. They were attempting to do so, and would have done so, if they could have done so; but Bayn and Lincoln put the kabosh on it yesterday, and now the Obamacrats truly have no options left. The Ring has been thrown into the Cracks of Doom.]
Even if Democrats could agree on using reconciliation to adjust the health care bill, the House and Senate have yet to resolve major policy differences between the House and Senate measures, including a dispute over a proposed tax on high-cost insurance policies, and provisions related to insurance coverage of abortions.
Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, said he favored a two-step process, under which the House would pass the Senate bill and Congress would then revise it using fast-track budget procedures that would require only a simple majority in the Senate. Republicans adamantly oppose that approach.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, urged caution, saying, “The White House and Democratic leaders should reach out one more time to Republicans to see if they can find a common ground.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said Democrats were assessing their options on health care. “It’s a timeout,” she said. “The leadership is re-evaluating. They asked us to keep our powder dry.”
Mrs. Feinstein said Congressional leaders should simplify the gigantic health care bill and try to pass parts of it that would be understandable to the public. But she also acknowledged that the odds were long for a far-reaching measure. “I think big, comprehensive bills are very difficult to do in this environment,” she said.
The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said White House comments on health care suggested Mr. Obama was not listening to the American people.
In Elyria, Ohio, on Friday, Mr. Obama said he was not going to “walk away” from the fight for major health legislation. If the bill becomes law, White House officials said, Americans will see its benefits and will embrace it.
But Mr. McConnell said, “This a clear sign that the administration has not gotten the message, that it’s become too attached to its own pet goals, that it’s stuck in neutral when the American people are asking it to change direction.” He said Mr. Obama should “put the 2,700-page Democrat health care plan on the shelf” and “move toward the kind of step-by-step approach Americans really want.”
Republicans, however, have not come forward with any new proposals, and Mr. McConnell has said he hopes the health care bill is now dead.
A. Zarkov writes:
James N. writes: