As White House predicts swift passage of health bill, Congress bogs down

While White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel declared that health care reform would clear Congress in the next two months, lawmakers in the House and Senate remained in gridlock over how to move legislation out of either chamber.

Emanuel told PBS's Charlie Rose that a health care bill “will be passed before the members go home for Thanksgiving,” and it will meld aspects of both the House and Senate proposals that are miles apart philosophically.

Even as Emanuel predicted timely cooperation, congressional Democrats closed doors leading to compromise and remained vague about when they would actually vote on a bill.

Asked on when the House would have a bill ready for a vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded, “I don't know,” and said she was “completely and totally unfamiliar with” Emanuel's timetable.

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., skipped his usual weekly meeting with reporters, who would have undoubtedly peppered him with questions about the timing of a health care bill in the Senate. Instead, Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders took to the chamber, immune from reporters' questions, and gave pro-reform health care speeches while the Senate Finance Committee continued plowing through a massive stack of amendments to its contentious health care bill that has detractors on both sides of the aisle.

“This is no time to let partisanship get the best of us,” Reid said in his speech, which was mostly an attack on Republican resistance to the Democrats' health care proposals.

Pelosi, meanwhile, met privately with House Democrats. Liberals in her caucus told her they were unwilling to back a health care plan that would impose a new federal health insurance program only if private insurers don't reduce costs, even though the Senate Democrats are weighing the idea as a way to draw in support from moderate members.

“The evidence seems to point, at this caucus that I just went to, that a trigger is an excuse for not doing anything,” Pelosi said.

For Pelosi, the biggest hurdle may be getting a bill that passes the House in any form. She has pledged that the bill will include a robust public insurance option, which will keep her 80-plus liberals happy. But moderate House Democrats, who are as numerous as liberals, are fearful that it will cost too much and put private insurers out of business.

Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., who is head of the fiscally moderate House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, said the group would be meeting with Pelosi in the coming days in an effort to make the bill more palatable to them.

But by conceding to the Blue Dogs, Pelosi risks losing enough liberals to block House passage.

Boyd said Pelosi will ultimately have to draft legislation that can draw in some House Republicans in order to come up with the 218 votes needed to pass a bill.

“I just don't know of any bill you can write and get 218 Democratic votes,” Boyd said.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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