Top House Democrats on Wednesday suggested in a conference call with reporters that a deal on health care reform is in reach, but they had no answers on how or when they will get there.Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Conference Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) sought to use rate increases as high as 39 percent for some Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield customers in California to jump-start momentum for the stalled health care reform effort. But the Democratic quartet didnt have much to offer after they were pelted with questions from reporters about how the health care bill might move forward and the value of next weeks bipartisan summit called by President Barack Obama.The House and the Senate are very close to completing an agreement, but Obama wanted to give Republicans one last opportunity to have their ideas heard and incorporated into the bill, Van Hollen said.And Becerra suggested Democrats hope to move forward with a bipartisan agreement on health care reform.But there has been little evidence that the House and Senate are very close or that the talk of bipartisanship is anything more than just talk. Its not clear that an excise tax deal on health insurance cut with unions before the Massachusetts special election that gave GOP Senators 41 seats has the votes in the House, and there is a laundry list of other items that remain unresolved. Among them: how to deal with abortion and immigration; the levels of subsidies for buying insurance; the employer and individual mandates; and national exchanges vs. state exchanges.And then theres the question of whether the final bill will have a public insurance option, which House and Senate liberals are hoping to resurrect as part of a final deal.Becerra talked up the idea of reviving the public option as competition to the skyrocketing private insurance rates. Theres very little competition occurring, he said, noting that Medicare costs are growing far more slowly despite dealing with the sickest and oldest patients without the ability to cherry-pick customers. Every time that there seems to be in the health reform effort the injection of competition through a real public option, the stocks of the private insurance companies went down, Becerra said.Sanchez, meanwhile, said the soaring costs for insurance is even hitting her wealthy home enclave of Orange County, suggesting that health care has become an imperative not just for people without insurance but for people who have it but cant afford the increases.We all are going to end up without insurance if we dont get this done, she said.And Becerra said that if all of the stories about 30 percent to 40 percent rate increases dont scare people into action, then we are in real trouble.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.