Both Sides Adjust as Reform Deadline Nears
By John Amick
After a tumultuous week for the effort to reform health care that saw President Obama and Democrats in Congress step back from their timetable for advancing legislation, White House officials and Democrats are stressing the need to iron out differences among Senate and House versions of reform.
"We're less interested in hard deadlines than in moving the process forward," said David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, on CNN's "State of the Union." "The deadlines have had a disciplining effect. Three of the five committees of jurisdiction in the Congress have passed bills, the other two are working hard on it."
Axelrod dismissed the likely slipping of the original Obama-imposed August 7 deadline, when Congress will begin a month-long recess, saying action this major would inevitably linger after the recess anyway, even if the House and Senate had bills ready to vote on.
"We want to move the process forward, even if both the House and the Senate had voted on these bills before the break, this would still go ... well into the fall because then you'd have to reconcile those two bills and there'd be continued debate," Axelrod said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insists that while the House is still negotiating three different proposals of their own, she is confident the House will advance legislation in a timely manner.
"When I take this bill to the floor, it will win," Pelosi said on CNN when questioned whether she will have the support necessary in the House to pass a bill. "But we will move forward. This will happen."
A continuing criticism of Obama made by Republicans and conservative Democrats alike throughout the reform process has been the President's lack of insistence on what exactly he wants from the end product and what he would and would not support. He had maintained a desire for open-mindedness in order to avoid committing to certain proposals that could hinder the debate. Axelrod addressed that point on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"If there is a consensus for an idea and people are looking for his view on it, he will give them that view," Axelrod said. "That consensus hasn't emerged yet. That is why people have been working all weekend long, day and night on this and will into this week and next, so, you know, I am sure that this process will move along. The fact is everyone is focused on the fact that we have some issues left to resolve."
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said on "Face the Nation" that while the White House is increasing their level of participation with Congress, complete cooperation is still lacking.
"We want more White House leadership," said Cooper, a leader of conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs, who have emerged as more of a force than Republicans to slow the administration's plans for reform. "Now they have been increasingly good at this where they are more and more engaged, but the real question is not about authorship. It is more about craftsmanship, a bill that works and the president has laid down excellent guidelines."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs contradicted any assertions of problematic disengagement from the White House.
"Staff and the president met for several hours with Democrats in the White House this week again," Gibbs said on "Fox News Sunday." "He's been on the phone with major players in the Republican Party on health care reform. I think the White House is very intimately involved in this."
Cooper said he's not convinced that Speaker Pelosi has the votes in the House to pass legislation as of yet, but he does think that agreement in both the Senate and the House on the details of reform is more advanced than is widely assumed.
"We are still in the earliest stages of drafting reform, we have a long way to go," Cooper said. "A lot of agreement is out there and I think David Axelrod is right. We have agreement on 70 or 80 percent of the legislation but it is important we get the other details right too."
For their part, Republicans in Congress said they want to stall what they see as hasty action in reforming America's health-care system, which commands about one-sixth of the American economy, and make the process more of a bipartisan approach.
"The only thing bipartisan about the measure so far is the opposition to it," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on "State of the Union."
McConnell pointed to the difficulties Democrats have had in keeping their own party on the same page as a sign that the reform effort thus far has been stunted and one-sided.
"At some point, they understand that in order to comfort their own members and to have broad support among the American people, it will need to be bipartisan. So far, they have produced a measure that they cannot sell even to their own members," McConnell said in reference to disagreements between conservative and more liberal Democrats in Congress.
"No, (that) is not possible and perhaps not desirable either," Conrad said on ABC's "This Week." "We're probably going to get a better product if we go through the tough business of debate, consideration, and analysis of what we're proposing."
But while voicing a desire to continue down a bipartisan path in the next crucial weeks, Conrad acknowledged what he considered obstructive tactics from Republicans.
"Jim, I think has been very clear, he wants to kill it," Conrad said in reference to his counterpart on "This Week," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). "And I think that would be a tragedy because we've got a crisis here for the country."
DeMint made news this past week saying he thought that if Republicans could derail the current effort of reform, it would be Obama's "Waterloo" moment, breaking the momentum of the President's agenda.
"We could have a plan in a few weeks ... if the goal is not a government takeover," DeMint said in reference to a major roadblock for Republicans, the chance of the inclusion of any sort of public option to compete with private insurance providers. "This is about the most personal service that Americans have. We don't want to a bureaucrat (dictating care)."
When asked about the likelihood of partly funding reform through taxing high-end insurance policies, or "Cadillac" plans, Axelrod said the White House was interested in the option since it would largely avoid affecting the middle class, yet, true to pattern, was non-committal.
"Our big concern is that we not impose vast new burdens on the middle class," Axelrod said on CNN. "So he (Obama) said that it's an intriguing proposal, we're looking at that. But we're waiting for the committees to finish their work."
McConnell hinted that some Republicans are attracted to the idea.
"Well, some of our members think that that's a reasonable way to go," McConnell said.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her view on health-care reform. Clinton said she agrees with the sense of urgency in Washington to reconstruct the country's health-care system.
"I applaud the president for taking it on right off the bat," Clinton said. "You know, there are many problems we're dealing with in our country, and certainly he could have said, 'OK, fine, we'll get to that when we get to it.' But he's waded right into it. And I am somewhat encouraged by what I see happening in the Congress. You know, I've been there. I know how hard this is."
Clinton, who was First Lady in 1993 when she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, spearheaded reform only to see their proposals ultimately fail. She said the atmosphere for overhaul is different than it was 16 years ago.
"It's different because I think everybody's now convinced there's a problem," Clinton said. "Back in '93 we had to keep making the case over and over again. Well, now we know costs will continue to rise. For everybody who has insurance, there is no safe haven, their costs will go up."
Clinton hinted that she and Obama have discussed health-care reform, among other domestic issues, though she would not divulge any specifics. She said she does think reform will be successful this time around.
"I think that the time has come," she said. "I think this president is committed to it. I think the leadership in Congress understands we have to do something. And I, I think we'll get, we'll get it done."
Best of the Rest
- Clinton on North Korea:
"We want to make clear to North Korea that their behavior is not going to be rewarded. In the past they believe that they have acted out, done things which really went against the norms of the international community and somehow then were rewarded. Those days are over. We believe that the six-party talk framework which had everybody included is the appropriate way to engage with North Korea."
- Axelrod on Obama addressing the Henry Louis Gates-Cambridge Police Department controversy:
"I think he understood that the debate was veering off in the wrong direction and as he said, that his words may have contributed to that so he felt a responsibility to step forward and kind of cool the situation down and acknowledge the fact that he had, as he said, calibrated his words poorly and had contributed to that."
- McConnell on cooperation between the White House and Republicans:
"You know, the president's trying to do most of these things on the far left. I think the stimulus was a big mistake. I think we can, you know, fairly safely declare it now a failure. It was sold to us as something that was going to jolt the economy, that was going to hold unemployment to 8 percent. Unemployment's going over 10 percent."
- Axelrod on the economic stimulus, on CNN:
"... I would point out that he says not just to provide a jolt in the short run, but to give us a long-term recovery or lay the foundation for a long-term recovery. And, in fact, I think that the Recovery Act has done that. The -- if you look at what the economists are projecting now and we're about to hear what the growth numbers were for the second quarter, many outside experts are now saying they expect that the Recovery Act added 2 to 3 points of growth in the second quarter and helped slow the rate of this recession."
- Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on "Fox News Sunday," on the possible delay of health-care reform:
"You know, this is a democratic republic, where the people are supposed to tell us what to do. They've now heard about a lot of different plans, and I think it's a very good thing for us to go back home over the August recess, lay it out to our constituents and say, "All right, folks, what do you think we ought to do? Here are the pros and cons of all of these different proposals. The American people need to speak to this. And I think, if they do, we'll make much wiser decisions."
- Pelosi on the Democrats' handling of the sagging economy:
"I do think the health care bill is a stimulus package. I do believe that our energy bill was, for the creation of new green jobs, a jump start. I just remind you of this. When we passed our budget 100 days after the president became president, House and Senate both passed the budget that day, same day. And at that time, we passed a budget that had three pillars to turn the economy around, to create jobs and to lower the deficit -- energy, education, and health care."
Posted at 2:45 PM ET on Jul 26, 2009
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