Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Reid Vows Bipartisan Effort on Health Care Bill, Republicans Say

By Bart Jansen, CQ Staff

July 8, 2009 -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meeting Wednesday with four GOP members of the Finance Committee, committed to producing a bipartisan health-care bill with no set timeline and promised to include Republicans in a Senate–House conference on the legislation.

Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on Finance, asked for the meeting as the committee works on writing its bill. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah joined him at the session with Reid.

"It was a very constructive meeting and bipartisan talks are going to continue, and not continue under a hard timeline," Grassley said.

The group discussed four major concerns: the cost of the legislation, whether to tax health-care benefits, whether a public plan option should be available to the uninsured and whether employers should be forced to provide insurance.

Snowe said Reid, D-Nev., assured the group that Republicans would be included in negotiations with the House on a final version of the legislation. "He said it would be a bipartisan, open conference," she said after the meeting.

Democrats complained in 2003, when they were in the minority, that Republicans largely shut them out of conference negotiations on the law that created Medicare’s prescription drug benefit (PL 108-173).

There is no schedule for the Finance Committee to mark up its bill, which will include ways to pay for the massive legislation. Cost estimates hover around $1 trillion over 10 years.

Snowe signaled her opposition to one of the leading proposals to pay for extending coverage to the uninsured—taxing some portion of employer-provided health benefits.

"It ought to be off the table, but the point is to find other options," Snowe said.

Hatch said that although the senators discussed the four major issues, "there are tons of other issues."

"It’s very complicated," said Hatch, who is also a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which shares jurisdiction over the bill. "Harry is sincere. He’ll tell you when he doesn’t agree. He’s a good man."

Reid issued a statement describing the meeting as "positive."

"Democrats have said from the beginning of this Congress and throughout this debate that with the health of our economy and our citizens at stake, our strong preference is to pass a bipartisan bill that lowers crushing health care costs for the middle class," Reid said.

"I appreciate some of our Republican colleagues' demonstrated commitment to that goal, and I look forward to more Republicans joining us at the negotiating table."

A Race to the Recess

The HELP Committee, meanwhile, continues to mark up a more liberal version of the overhaul legislation, and Democrats still hope to blend the two panels’ bills before the summer recess begins Aug. 7.

But Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a member of the HELP Committee, predicted Wednesday that the Senate would not complete a bill before the recess because Finance hasn’t begun its markup and the combined bill would consume two to three weeks of floor time.

"The one consistency is that this bill is extremely expensive and it’s not paid for," Gregg said.

Gregg said that contrary to what Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., the acting HELP chairman, has said of that committee’s draft, the bill would not provide health insurance coverage to 97 percent of Americans. To reach that level would require an expansion of Medicaid to cover everyone with incomes below 1.5 times the federal poverty level—about $33,075 for a family of four in 2009, "which adds another $1 trillion cost on to this bill." A Medicaid expansion falls under Finance’s purview.

"My guess is when we get it all finished, you’re looking at something in the $1.5 to $2 trillion range" for the HELP bill "if you presume a Medicaid expansion" of that magnitude, he said.

When asked whether the Senate could finish work on a health bill before the recess, Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., Baucus replied, "I would hope. I hope. It’s a goal. We’ll see."

Drew Armstrong contributed to this story.

Publication Details