The health care debate on Capitol Hill is moving so fast, and in so many different direction, that sometimes it can be difficult--maybe impossible--to keep track of all the myriad moving parts. But to get a sense of where things stand more broadly, there are a handful of leading indicators to watch out for if you're trying to keep abreast of major developments.
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First, and foremost are the deadlines. Democratic leaders--and President Obama--want both the House and the Senate to pass their separate bills before they break for August recess. The House breaks on August 3rd and the Senate on August 10. For the first time today, the White House said it might ask Congress to push those dates back a bit if the deadline isn't met.
But assuming for the moment that Obama doesn't hold Congress' feet to the fire, that leaves precious little time for both chambers to complete a great deal of work--or to become overwhelmed and leave town for a month with a big embarrassment, and major complications, hanging over their heads. If that happens--and many think it will--then meeting the other deadline may be impossible. Obama wants to sign a bill in October, and between nominations and appropriations bills and early work on major energy legislation, it's hard to imagine the Senate squeezing what will likely be a two week floor debate on health care reform into the month of September. Tack on to that the fact that vulnerable members become less and less willing to vote for controversial legislation as election season kicks into high gear, and you can see why party leaders and reformers are getting worried.
That means that the key committees--particularly those committees' Democrats--are working over time to resolve remaining differences and move legislation closer to a vote. And if they're going to get it done, they'll have to make huge strides this week.