Democrats will have to make significant progress this week toward reaching an agreement on the shape of House-Senate health care legislation if they hope to hand President Obama a bill to sign before his State of the Union speech, tentatively scheduled for early February.
And that means they’ll have to reach a number of compromises on everything from the implementation date of major reforms, to the structure of insurance markets, to, most crucially, how to pay for near-universal health care.
The question of how to generate new revenue has split House and Senate Democrats and has driven a wedge between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the administration, which supports the Senate’s plan: an excise tax on high-cost health care plans. For months, the White House’s chief focus in the health care reform fight has been making sure the 60 members of the Senate Democratic caucus stay united behind the plan–and that means they’re not giving Pelosi, who has greater margin for error and more control over her own caucus, much leeway to secure her priorities.SEIU President Andy Stern told The Hill last week he expects to lose the fight over the excise tax. President Obama will be meeting with labor leaders at the White House today to sell them on the tax plan.
The goal is to quell a revolt among House Democrats, who overwhelmingly oppose the tax, and are frustrated by having to consistently yield to the Senate on major legislation.
Both President Obama and former President Clinton will huddle with House Democrats later this week at their issues conference, to impress upon them the importance of passing the legislation–whatever its final shape. How Pelosi whips up the votes for the package–and who ultimately votes for it–will be a major point of interest in the days and weeks ahead.