Dems to reveal how they'll pay for healthcare

By the end of this week, House Democrats may have answered the biggest question looming in the healthcare debate – how they plan to pay for their overhaul.

Leadership aides say they will introduce a bill by Thursday or Friday, in preparation for votes in committee next week. And that bill, they say, will include a way to pay for the bill.

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“It is premature to point to any specific provision, but the House is committed to ensure that healthcare reform is paid for,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Introducing a bill will also solidify the Democrats' blueprint for a "public option." The discussion draft released last month included a government option that closely resembles Medicare, alarming the health insurance industry.

But before the revenue-raisers and the rest of the fine print is rolled out, Democratic leadership will engage in some serious hand-holding.

They have scheduled a caucus meeting with each of the three chairmen handling the bill. Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) will lead off Tuesday, explaining the public plan and the numerous other details that could give members relief or heartburn.

House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) will brief on Tuesday. And Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) speaks Friday. Rangel and his committee are in charge of finding the cuts and tax increases needed to pay for the bill.

Leadership aides stress that no final decision has been made on how to pay the tab. The Democrats on Rangel's committee will hold a marathon meeting all day Tuesday where healthcare and the "pay-for," as it's called, are sure to come up.

A large portion is expected to come from reductions in Medicare and Medicaid. But that won't pay for the full overhaul. As for raising money, ideas have included a national sales tax, taxing soda and a "surtax" on people making more than $250,000.

In addition to that, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) and Vice-chair Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) will hold six "listening sessions" that break rank-and-file members out by region. The three leaders will take concerns and ideas from the sessions' members back to the leadership in preparation for markup next week.

"This process is moving forward effectively," said a House leadership aide. "If you look at the struggles they've had in the Senate over turf, we've avoided that."

Feeling that they have momentum coming out of their climate-change victory before recess, House Democrats are rushing to make a July 31 deadline for passing the bill out of the House. The idea is that a conference committee can work out the details in the fall and pass the package by the end of the year.

But Democrats are already preparing to fight charges that they're moving too swiftly and not getting enough Republican input. They note that they've held 79 hearings on healthcare reform in the House since taking over in 2007.