Healthcare faces hurdles in the home stretch

It’s expected to be a make-or-break week for Congress, as serious doubts emerged over the weekend that lawmakers may not meet President Obama’s August-recess deadline to deliver a trillion-dollar healthcare bill.
 
House Democrats initially wanted to unveil their full healthcare proposal last Friday, but bipartisan and intra-party negotiations in both the House and Senate have delayed Obama’s hallmark legislation.
 
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Skeptical centrists, liberals and electorally vulnerable lawmakers in the Democratic caucus are already facing gut-check moments, questioning whether to support their party’s measure or buck their leadership and Obama out of concerns that they might get left out to dry if the bill stalls.
 
And with the 2010 congressional elections steadily approaching — when politically risky decisions will be less appealing — many of the more senior lawmakers are increasingly anxious to get a bill to Obama before the summer recess.
 
Much of the focus remains centered around how to raise $540 billion in revenue to fund the bill — and coming at a time of rising fiscal deficits, the political nightmare of raising taxes has proven to be a much more difficult sell.
 
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said he plans on Monday to lay out a revenue-raising plan that would raise taxes on couples earning more than $350,000 a year.
 
Immediate opposition sprang from Republicans on Friday following Rangel’s announcement. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said it would hurt small-business owners who sometimes file their professional income as their personal income.
 
The GOP objections were followed closely by several Senate Democratic leaders who signaled their reservations on Sunday to taxing the wealthy.
 
“I think we are going to have a different approach,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on ABC's “This Week.”
 
The disagreements caused many senators on Sunday to voice doubt regarding the measure’s likelihood of making it to Obama by August, but most were not impatient, saying they’d rather take their time than rush it through.
 
“I think we’ll be through the Finance Committee by the August recess, and I think that’s a realistic goal,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee. “There really is plenty of time. Congress is going to be in session until Christmas Eve.”
 
But the committee has, until now, postponed making some of the more difficult decisions about hotly contested political issues, such as whether to include a public option or some alternative and what requirements to place on employers.
 
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Not only must Finance answer all of these questions in a short period of time and then schedule and stage the markup, but Senate Democratic leadership and the chairmen and members of both committees have to figure out some way to merge the more partisan measure from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee with the ostensibly bipartisan Finance Committee bill into coherent legislation that can win 60 votes on the Senate floor.
 
Additionally, the Senate is set to begin hearings on Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court this week, which will take up time from the Senate.
 
“I think that’s highly unlikely since the Finance Committee doesn’t even have a bill drafted yet and we’re in the middle of the Sotomayor hearings for this week and then we’re going to be debating her nomination for a week before we adjourn for the office recess,” said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
 
The upper chamber has four weeks if it is to pass a bill before the August recess, while the House has only three weeks to meet Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) promised timeline of getting a bill to Obama.


Jeffrey Young contributed to this story.