Reid backs Baucus, expects health bill by recess

With healthcare reform stumbling in both chambers, Senate leaders laid the ground for political battle during the August recess.

Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) reiterated his party’s case for healthcare, refusing to get drawn into a description of the Finance Committee talks and sidestepping a question about whether he favors a public option.

The role of a public health insurance plan is considered one of the top sticking points on Capitol Hill. President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy: Dems ask Pruitt to justify first-class travel | Obama EPA chief says reg rollback won't stand | Ex-adviser expects Trump to eventually rejoin Paris accord Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand Ex-US ambassador: Mueller is the one who is tough on Russia MORE reiterated his commitment to the idea on Tuesday in remarks to the AARP, but Finance Committee members are torn about whether to include the idea.

Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben Baucus2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer Steady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate MORE (D-Mont.) has been under increasing scrutiny since the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee already passed a rival bill several weeks ago. Asked Tuesday whether a bill would be produced this week, Baucus said “I hope so” without elaborating.

Reid stepped out to defend Baucus at a mid-afternoon press conference, but avoided details. Asked if he was confident that a bill will reach the Senate floor by the time the recess begins on Aug. 7, Reid simply said, "Yes."

Pushing back against Republican criticism, Reid also reiterated Democrats’ vow to pass a health reform plan that is fully funded.

“Any plan that passes the Senate will be fully paid for,” Reid said. “When all of the numbers are crunched, the number on the bottom line will be zero … We are long overdue for changes in our healthcare system. The biggest cost to the American public is inaction.”

Meanwhile, GOP leaders continued their public-relations onslaught against the Democratic health agenda, claiming Obama’s ideas would force Americans to lose their current healthcare and bankrupt the system.

Top Republicans also said they aren’t afraid of a voter backlash if healthcare dies in Congress because they believe the public will understand the details.

“I would be 100 percent certain there would be a backlash if we rushed something through,” said Senate Republican Conference President Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Trump health chief backs CDC research on gun violence | GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix | Groups sue over cuts to teen pregnancy program GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix 30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help MORE. “We’re doing exactly the right thing by going home in August and talking to our constituents and telling them how this will affect their healthcare.”

Reid also said Tuesday that the Supreme Court confirmation vote on Sonia Sotomayor will go forward next week as planned. Republicans are insisting that all of their members be allowed to speak for one hour each, he said, meaning at least 40 hours would be needed. That would put a vote on the nomination around midweek, with senators likely leaving town on Thursday night.