House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who once pledged that sweeping health care legislation would come up for a House vote before the August recess, now is a lot less definite about the timing.
House Democrats are locked in internal negotiations that have dragged on for weeks, leaving the leadership short of time, and of votes, to bring the measure (HR 3200) to a vote before the House leaves Friday for the recess.
“We are on schedule to do it now, or to do it whenever,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday. “I wanted a bill before the August recess but I have also said members need time to get a bill and to see it,”
Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., have pledged that members would get 48 hours to study the bill before a floor vote.
Grilled on CNN’s “The Situation Room” about whether the leadership would hold the House in session beyond this Friday, Hoyer said, “I doubt that that’s going to be the case.”
He did leave the door open a crack last week, saying it might be possible to slide a few days past the July 31 date if Democrats are certain they have a consensus that will assure passage.
The Energy and Commerce Committee tentatively plans to resume its markup of the legislation on Tuesday, although no time has been announced. Negotiations continue between Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., and a group of moderate to conservative Democrats who have stalled the markup with an array of objections, mainly to the bill’s costs.
House Democrats assembled late Monday afternoon for a caucus at which staff for the three committees with jurisdiction over the massive bill planned to go over the bill section by section. A question-and-answer session was planned at the end.
Rep. Jane Harman , D-Calif., said that members at the walk-through asked many questions about the bill but did not criticize it. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., a Pelosi ally, said that he believed the Blue Dogs would be won over.
“The Blue Dogs are working on consolidating their positions to something that’s cost effective and rational,” he said.
“Nobody can say we haven’t read the bill,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.
Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson, D-Conn., said the Monday afternoon session was the 11th caucus meeting devoted to health care in this Congress.
Whether Energy and Commerce actually would move ahead with its markup was still up in the air. The group of seven Blue Dog Democrats who have been objecting to the bill were planning to meet Monday night to talk more, after their staff members negotiated with aides to Waxman over the weekend. It was unclear if Waxman was going to attend.
“I think we’re making progress,” Hoyer said of the talks with the Blue Dogs. But he deferred to Waxman as to whether the committee would actually proceed with its markup. Waxman last week infuriated the Blue Dogs by publicly suggesting he might instead allow the leadership to discharge the bill from his committee and take it to the floor. “That’s a question you need to ask the chairman,” Hoyer said, implying that it would be Waxman’s decision on how he would handle the lack of unity on his panel.
Top House Republicans, who appear united in their opposition to the Democrats’ health proposals, said the very fact that such a lengthy caucus meeting was planned showed the problems with the bill. “That ought to tell how large, bureaucratic and government-centered this bill is. That makes the American people very nervous. They [the Democrats] are going to take something that’s very personal and turn it over to the government,” charged Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
Pelosi brought out her deputies to refute GOP claims point by point, perhaps an indication that the Democrats understand they might be losing ground in the health care debate.
“Americans are being fed a lot of misinformation, as they were 16 years ago,” Hoyer said, referring to the ill-fated health overhaul proposed by President Bill Clinton.
He said Democrats’ current effort “has been long in the making, and it’s long overdue. We will work until it’s done.”
Senate leaders have abandoned plans to vote on a bill and are hoping that the Finance Committee, which is writing the only bipartisan legislation in Congress, can produce the measure before senators leave town next week. Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., would not commit to any timetable Monday in brief remarks to reporters, and said a group of six senators from the panel had not struck any firm agreements on the legislation.