Senate Dems blame media for August health deadline

Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday blamed Capitol Hill media for setting an August deadline for health reform and Republicans for blocking the bill's progress.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-Wash.) also acknowledged that critics will "pour it on" during the coming August recess and they plan to respond in kind.

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Reid said reporters created a fictitious deadline of a successful vote by the August recess, and downplayed the fact that the chamber won’t meet that mark.

“That is a deadline that you created,” Reid told a group of about 75 reporters. “It’s not like we don’t have a product. Significant progress has been made … The mere fact that this wasn't done by last Friday or by five o’clock doesn't mean we’re not going to get a quality product."

Sens. Michael Enzi (Wyo.), ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, took stances Thursday against supporting any healthcare bill before the August recess — a move Reid blamed on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“The only problem with getting a bipartisan bill is the Republican leadership in the Senate,” Reid said.

Saying the current medical system is "chronically ill," Durbin took aim at the insurance lobby, which he said will “pour it on” during August.

“There are people out there with a lot of money at stake in this debate,” Durbin said. “The health insurance companies are some of the most profitable businesses in America. By fighting change they're protecting their bottom line.”

The Senate's drive toward health reform accelerated in June with a bill passed by the HELP Committee, but it stalled this month in the Finance Committee. Schumer gave an upbeat progress report on the Finance Committee negotiations, saying "real progress" is being made and that Democrats will promote it strongly during the monthlong break.

The Democratic leaders also used endorsements from seven physician lobbies to continue their promotional push Thursday, appearing with Jim King of the American Academy of Family Physicians and Joe Stubbs of the American College of Physicians.

"They understand we cannot maintain the status quo," Reid said of the doctors. "Our healthcare system is not healthy."

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King, a doctor from Selmer, Tenn., said doctors are fed up with the current system and believe it will deteriorate without reform.

"We are too close to stop now," he said, describing the current system as "fragmented, uncoordinated and duplicative."

Stubbs, an internist from Albany, Ga., and president of the college physicians group, said patients are at a disadvantage against insurers under current rules.

"We can and should debate these changes," he said. "But debate must not be the excuse for delay."

Five other medical groups also sent representatives to Thursday's press conference — the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Osteopathic Association, the American Medical Student Association, Doctors for America and the National Physicians Alliance.

The American Medical Association is also supporting the Democratic efforts, but did not send a representative to Thursday's press conference.