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Health Care Reform Still a Delicate Dance

Both Senate committees are set to hold hearings and working-group meetings between now and the Memorial Day recess to debate many of the most contentious issues.

Tuesday is the first big day, with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) leading a HELP working group on expanding coverage and the Finance Committee hosting a working group on overhauling the health care delivery system. A Democratic Senate aide familiar with the process described the next six to eight weeks as crucial.

“As this work period closes, we’ll have a very good picture of what this bill is going to look like and where this bill stands,” this aide said. “And we’ll be moving very quickly on this bill after the Memorial Day recess.”

Yet as Democrats and Republicans move beyond discussing broad goals for reform to determining how best to achieve that reform, the long-standing partisan and philosophical differences are expected to magnify.

Republicans in particular are wary of how President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats plan to pay for health care reform — and more specifically how much an overhaul would add to the deficit and national debt. Additionally, Republicans are worried about the speed at which the bill is being drafted and the fact that reconciliation remains on the table.

A senior Democratic Senate aide confirmed that these issues will probably remain the largest obstacles to achieving consensus, noting that agreeing on how to pay for the overhaul is “the most challenging.” The business community, which unlike 16 years ago has generally been on board with advancing a health care reform bill, might also recoil, as corporate America may be asked to foot part of the bill.

“We were in the honeymoon phase. I think the honeymoon is over,” said one Republican Senate aide familiar with the health care process. “I think the road will only get harder.”

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