Health care negotiators are facing a serious problem in resolving their differences and are not likely to have a final bill until February, according to key House Democrats involved in ongoing talks.
Weve got a problem on both sides of the Capitol. A serious problem, Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday evening.
The difficulty in hashing out an agreement between the two chambers is largely due to there being so many different factions with a stake in the matter, Rangel said. Normally youre just dealing with the Senate and they talk about 60 votes and you listen to them and cave in, but this is entirely different, he said. Im telling you that never has 218 been so important to me in the House.
Another senior House Democrat familiar with negotiations on the bill said no progress has been made this week on any of the key sticking points in the House and Senate bills, despite steady meetings with union leaders and the White House.
Theres no agreement. No deal on anything. Nothing, the lawmaker said.
The reality, said this lawmaker, is that House-Senate negotiators will need to continue working out their differences into February. Congressional leaders have been aiming to deliver a final bill to President Barack Obama before his State of the Union address, which normally takes place in late January.
One of the biggest sticking points is how to pay for the bill; the Senate and the White House are pressing for a tax on high-cost Cadillac health insurance plans, whereas the House wants to raise taxes on wealthy people. Health care negotiators are talking about some way we can come up with a whole third policy that meets both proposals in the middle, said the Democratic lawmaker. But at this stage, those discussions are only happening at the staff level.
Rangel said Obama has insisted that the health care industry generate the revenues to pay for the bill, a method of financing that Rangel said he and other lawmakers dont feel as beholden to. He has to feel comfortable in the recommendations that we have, but bending the curve is not on my paper. Its on the presidents paper, Rangel said.
Discussion of the excise tax dominated the discussion at a Tuesday night meeting of the Democratic Caucus, according to Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), a leading critic of the approach. He said the levy got pummeled. Out of a couple dozen speakers on the topic, he said only one voiced support for the Senate approach and one expressed a willingness to consider it.
But others said the House-Senate divide on how to pay for the overhaul will be one of the easier differences to bridge. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said negotiators just need to figure out a way that all sides can take it by adjusting the threshold of who gets hit by the tax.
Anti-trust provisions regarding health insurance companies are also still unresolved. Senate negotiators have agreed to accept collusion and price-fixing restrictions on insurers, the lawmaker said, but House negotiators are still pushing for more. On the issue of how restrictive language will be on abortion services, We havent gotten to that yet, the senior lawmaker said.
With all of these issues at a standstill, tensions are growing between the two chambers. Several House lawmakers have voiced frustration with Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) over concessions and special deals they cut in the Senate version.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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