Durbin: Finance Bill Critical Before Recess
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said it’s crucial that the Finance Committee vote out a health care bill before the recess, saying it would keep momentum going for reform and help to assuage the concerns of conservative House Democrats.
“I think it’s very important, and I hope we get it done. I still have my fingers crossed and feel good about it,— Durbin told reporters Wednesday. “And there are some people in the House, some Members of the House, are waiting on that to see that the Senate Finance Committee can actually produce a bill.—
The No. 2 Senate Democrat said he feels much more optimistic about the ability of a bipartisan group of Finance members to produce a bill — and have it marked up — before the Senate leaves for a monthlong recess at the end of next week.
The group, led by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), “is moving us to a point where we fell better today than we did yesterday— about getting a bill, Durbin said. The other negotiators include Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
Durbin said he fully anticipates that liberals will be unhappy with elements of any Finance deal, which is unlikely to include the government-run or public insurance plan that most Democrats prefer. Instead, talks in the committee have revolved around creating nonprofit health insurance cooperatives that would receive seed money from the federal government and compete against private, for-profit companies. The bipartisan group may also exclude another Democratic priority — mandating that most employers offer health insurance.
“There will be flash points in any bipartisan bill out of the Finance Committee that I’m sure more liberal members of our Caucus will be upset with,— said Durbin. “But I’ve said to all of them: Stay with us; this is the first inning. This is a long ballgame.—
Senate Democratic leaders have been pushing in recent weeks for party unity on procedural votes in order to make sure a health care bill can overcome any GOP-led filibuster attempts. Sixty votes are needed to kill a filibuster, and with two ailing Democratic Senators, leaders have put a premium on amassing as many votes as possible to ensure the bill can actually be debated on the floor.
“I have urged all my colleagues to stick with this process and realize that the first vote is not the last vote and that we want to come together procedurally to keep this process moving,— Durbin explained. “The Republican [minority] wants to filibuster us into failure, and we can’t let that happen. We have to move forward. … It’s a long process and come conference [with the House] the president will play a bigger role.—
Durbin, a close ally of President Barack Obama, added that the president also would play a critical public relations role during the month of August, particularly given Republican and industry attacks against the early health care bills that have been floated.
“I think we have a good message to take back home, and I’m glad we’re going to get a chance to do it because there’s a lot of uncertainty out there and a lot of bad information,— said Durbin. “I’d also say that historically … presidents are in the driver’s seat in August. Congress is gone … and the White House is still there generating a message and activity. So I think the president will have a chance to tell the American people about why this process is so important.—