Healthcare tops list of unresolved issues

Healthcare reform is still paramount, but lawmakers want to tackle many unresolved issues this week, including the estate tax, defense appropriations, the debt limit, a satellite reauthorization measure and a six-month extension of unemployment benefits.

ADVERTISEMENT
There is no lack of drama. Some centrist Democrats say they will not vote for a debt limit increase unless the bill also creates a new commission to help rein in entitlement costs.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) are strong backers of the panel, but critics include Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House committee chairmen. It remains to be seen who will blink first.

Meanwhile, Blue Dog Democrats want the Senate to embrace pay-as-you-go legislation passed by the House. Senate leaders have not indicated they will do so.

House Democratic leaders want to pass major jobs legislation before the end of this week, and to increase the chances it will pass, they might attach it to the defense-spending bill. That way, the measure could be signed into law and Democrats could tout the jobs package heading into the holidays. Republicans, however, are unlikely to back it.

Most House Republicans voted against a war supplemental bill this year, citing the measure’s allocation of money for the International Monetary Fund.

While stressing that the business of the House is the priority, Pelosi is looking to wrap up the lower chamber’s affairs by Wednesday so she and a bipartisan delegation can travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the climate change summit.

Pelosi and Reid have not ruled out coming back for a session between Christmas and New Year’s, although that appears unlikely. Certainly, there is a chance that the Senate will be in session a week from today, but it is hard to envision House lawmakers being around next week.

Republicans won the political battles over healthcare this summer, while Democrats rebounded in the fall as the House and two Senate committees approved health legislation. If the Senate passes a bill this month, Democrats will have the advantage. Otherwise, the GOP will claim the upper hand.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK - SEN. HARRY REID (D-NEV.)

Being the majority leader of the Senate has been called the worst job in Washington. So much is expected, but it is hard to deliver legislation in the obstacle-laden upper chamber.

Like a quarterback in the National Football League, the Senate majority leader gets too much credit when things are running smoothly and too much blame when they are not. That’s the nature of the position.

With less than a year before what is expected to be a challenging reelection race, Reid is facing the toughest legislative challenge of his career. He is desperately trying to find the ingredients of a bill that can attract 60 votes, but his recent “opt-out” public option plan fell short of that number. So did proposals from Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Likewise, a new plan that would allow people between 55 and 64 years old to buy into Medicare and have the Office of Personnel Management administer benefits has lost steam.

How Reid gets to 60 on any healthcare plan is unclear. But if he doesn’t before the end of the year, his moves in recent weeks will be second-guessed.

The holidays will be filled with headlines about how the effort to overhaul the healthcare system has stalled.

President Barack Obama vowed to get reform done by the end of 2009. There is no way that will happen, but Democrats will be able to claim victory if the Senate acts before the New Year’s Eve ball strikes 2010.

Reid scored an important victory on a motion to proceed before Thanksgiving, convincing every Democrat (and two Independents) to vote with him.

The stakes could not be higher for him or for Obama and other Democrats who are pressing to pass historic health legislation.