Grassley Suggests Health-Care Debate Will Last Until Mid-November
By Shailagh Murray
Members of the Senate Finance Committee launched a final week of health-care legislation negotiations Monday afternoon, even as they searched for a glimmer of optimism that an end is in sight.
The leading Republican on the committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), was quoted by Radio Iowa on Monday predicting that Congress could send a health-care bill to President Obama by Thanksgiving.
"If we get a bill on the Senate floor by the third or fourth week of September, it's probably going to take two weeks. Probably take a month to negotiate the difference between the House and Senate provisions, so I would suggest the middle of November," Grassley said.
In the meantime, much unfinished business remains. The Finance Committee's agenda Monday included determining whether health-insurance coverage, including a major Medicaid expansion, would extend to illegal immigrants. "We want to make sure they don't get it," Grassley told the Burlington, Iowa, radio station KBUR in a separate interview.
The House bill is headed to the floor after Labor Day. Across Capitol Hill, the Senate health committee approved its legislation weeks ago, while the finance committee's deadline for passing its bill has slipped to Sept. 15.
"We're entering the home stretch in the health-care reform effort," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on a conference call.
But if Finance Committee talks fail to produce a bipartisan bill, Schumer added, Democrats are prepared to resort to Plan B.
"No matter what happens, we're going to enact health-care reform by the end of the year," said Schumer. "And we hope it can be struck in a compromise with our Republican colleagues by September 15th. But if the Republicans are not able to produce an agreement, we will have contingencies in place," including invoking a special budget rule known as reconciliation that would limit the scope of the bill but prevent a GOP filibuster.
The finance panel's fragile consensus threatened to fall apart last week, when Baucus pressed for a deal by this Friday, the start of the Senate's August recess, and his GOP partners resisted. "We were just not ready for it, and we were able to talk him out of it," Grassley told KBUR.
But Grassley and fellow Republican negotiator Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) both noted that the Sept. 15 deadline had been set by Baucus, without their approval.
"I have not and will not agree to an artificial deadline because I am committed to getting health-care reform right," Enzi said in a statement. "We're making progress, but we still have several significant outstanding items to work on." And Enzi warned, "I won't be moved by partisan threats" to invoke reconciliation.
In the KBUR interview, Grassley described the political landscape in the Senate: "Thirty out of 40 Republicans right now don't want to do anything. And then you've got 30 to 40 Democrats who want a Canadian-style plan ... so we're trying to find something in the middle."
He urged his colleagues to use the August recess "to reflect on what we're doing. And there ought to be a lot of reflection. We're restructuring and redirecting one-sixth of the economy when you do something to health care, and it needs to be done cautiously."
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