Democratic sources said last week that the deadline was agreed to by the six negotiators. However, Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), one of the Republican participants, released a statement Monday afternoon saying he never signed off. He called the deadline arbitrary and rejected it outright.
Obama has asked that a final health care reform bill land on his desk by Oct. 15.
I have not and will not agree to an artificial deadline because I am committed to getting health care reform right, not finishing a bill by some arbitrary date. Improving access to quality, affordable health care for American families is too important to do hastily, Enzi said.
Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), long advocates of avoiding deadlines in favor of producing a good bill, did not appear to share Enzis disdain for the deadline. Both said the six Finance members would do their best to deliver a deal by Sept. 15, although Snowe said she doesnt favor rushing on an issue so complex.
Still, a Democratic Senate source familiar with the bipartisan talks said the next six weeks should give the group the time it needs to reach a deal. Democrats and Republicans in the gang agree that they have come together on about 95 percent of the issues, but that the most contentious items remain unresolved.
There is a sense this September deadline gives folks the breathing room they need to get this done, this source said. If time is a concern, this next month and a half should give Members who want more details the ability to work through their issues.
With the August recess around the corner, neither party is ceding the fight over the issue. The Senate Democratic Conference is meeting with Obama today at the White House, and health care is expected to be among the issues discussed; health care strategy sessions with administration officials are scheduled for later this week.
Republican leaders continue to argue that rushing to approve health care reform by an arbitrary deadline could make matters worse.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used the Cash for Clunkers program to warn against moving too quickly on health care reform. The program, which offers a financial incentive to people who trade in older cars for more fuel-efficient models, has been so popular that it quickly ran out of money. Obama is now asking that the Senate follow the House and allow for another $2 billion infusion into the initiative to keep it going through the fall.
Theres a pattern here, a pattern that amounts to an argument, and a very strong argument at that: When the administration comes bearing estimates, its not a bad idea to look for a second opinion, McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor. All the more so if they say theyre in a hurry.