Wicker unsure if health bill will reach Senate floor this year

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said on Thursday that he remains uncertain if the Senate will vote on a healthcare reform bill this calendar year.

"I don't know if it ever will, this year get to the floor," Wicker said in a local radio interview.

The second-term Republican's comments come at a time when great confusion surrounds the fate of healthcare reform in both the House and the Senate.

Just yesterday, Senate Republican Conference chair Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said that President Obama and Congress "could pass a bill today."

Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had set a September 15 deadline for his committee to present a bipartisan version of the legislation. Finance Committee Republicans and Democrats have been locked in intense negotiations over how to pay for the reforms.

Finding appropriate funding sources for healthcare reform programs has been a very sticky subject in Congress.

Wicker decried the current legislation for helping fund the cost of a new public health insurance option by shifting Medicaid expenses to the states and cutting Medicare.

"This is the mother of all unfunded mandates," Wicker said, quoting Tennessee Gov. Phil Bresden (D).

In addition to the obstacles facing the Finance Committee, high-profile Democrats, including President Obama, have urged the Senate to work quickly. Some Senate Democrats vowed to force a party line vote on the bill if the Finance Committee skips its self-imposed deadline.

On the other hand, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) called the deadline a bluff, saying that bipartisan negotiations would continue past mid-September.

In the House, Democratic leadership and centrist Blue Dog Democrats struck a bargain to move the legislation through the Energy and Commerce Committee, but the floor version of the bill is still unknown.