Washington (CNN) – House Democrats are already home for the holidays, but they huddled on a conference call Wednesday afternoon to discuss the next steps in negotiating a final health care bill with the Senate.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi restated the goal is to get a final bill to President Obama's desk before his State of the Union address in late January or early February, but admitted on the call that timeline could slip, according to two senior Democratic aides who were on the call.
Members made it clear to House leaders that they didn't want to simply accept the Senate bill, the aides said.
"Their point is that while both bills are a major step toward making affordable, quality health care available to all Americans, the House bill has quicker reform, is more affordable, and covers more people," according to one of the aides.
The Wednesday call follows a Tuesday meeting that Pelosi convened with other top House Democratic leaders and committee chairs via phone to map out the House's game plan for a conference with the Senate early next year. Although the House won't be in session until January 12, next week House staff will begin working through the differences on the two chambers' healthcare bills, according to several Democratic aides. Leaders and committee chairmen will return in early January for health care meetings. These aides were hesitant to get into specific details because the Senate hasn't passed a bill yet, but they emphasize that the House Democratic leaders will push hard for some key elements of their reform measure.
Pelosi told rank-and-file Democrats Wednesday that staff would put together a comparison of the House and Senate bills soon to help members prioritize the changes they want to see in a final bill. Leaders will schedule another conference call with all House Democrats before they return in January. The House and Senate are in session very few days in January, and will need to get final cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office before voting on a bill.
Given the reality of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, there wasn't much discussion among House leaders about pushing hard for the public option the House passed in a final bill. "They [the Senate] tried to see if they had support for it. There isn't. That's the reality. I think a lot of people are coming to terms with that and I don't know how productive it would be to bring it out again," a top Democratic leadership aide told CNN.
House Democratic leaders will push their Senate counterparts to include more affordability credits in the final bill. They also want the new health care exchange - where consumers can shop for insurance plans - to start in 2013, instead of the Senate's start date of 2014. "I think people on both sides of the Capitol would like to see the effective date moved up. Whether we can do that and pay for it is a question," another senior Democratic aide noted.
Because most of the major health care reforms won't go into effect until well after the 2010 election, House Democrats are also focused on showing immediate and tangible benefits to consumers. Leaders want a final bill to begin closing the so-called prescription drug "donut hole" for seniors next year. Under current Medicare coverage limits, when drugs costs reach $2,700 seniors must begin to pay all the costs out of pocket until they reach $6,154, at which Medicare coverage kicks back in. Under the House bill, this hole in coverage is cut by $500 immediately, and seniors get a 50 percent discount for some drugs. The House version closes the hole completely by 2019, but the Senate bill takes longer.
These aides said there would be a priority in keeping cost control measures in the final bill. There will be negotiations over abortion language as well as a fight between the chambers over how to pay for health care reform. The vast majority of House Democrats are on record opposing the Senate's so called "Cadillac tax" on high cost insurance plans. But several aides concede that House Democrats may be able to live with a compromise that ups the threshold at which the tax goes into effect.
House Democrats also recognize their surtax on wealthy Americans faces problems in a conference with the Senate. In lieu of the House proposal, there is discussion about increasing the rate on the Senate's Medicare payroll tax on higher income taxpayers.
As the health care debate moves to another stage next year, House Democrats are pressing again for President Obama to get more personally engaged in negotiating final details. One senior aide told CNN that there will be a push for the White House to change the largely hands-off approach it used in 2009 to pass the administration's key goals in the House. "House Democrats have been eager to move the president's agenda, they support the president's agenda. But we expected there to be more lifting from the White House," the aide said.
Several House Democrats on the Wednesday call also told leaders they are worried that the longer the process drags out, the harder it is to make the case to voters in their districts about the benefits of passing health care reform.
I can't wait until Pelosi is no longer speaker. She will be remembered as the worst speaker the US has ever had, bar none.
We've had a partial total of dirty harry's unconstitutional bribes and illegal payoffs – what is the total dollar amount that pukelosi paid out?
Yesss!!!! Pass it, then give us a public option!!!
I guess it is alright all of Congress has Health Insurance by the way the best in the world. However, the votes of this country do not. However, the House Health Care Bill is far better than the U.S. Senate Health Care Bill.
Pass the House Bill.
What happened to all of those senators, congressmen, and our president who vowed NOT TO PASS A BILL THAT ADDED "ONE CENT" TO THE DEFICIT???? They are nothing but power hungy LIARS. Joe Wilson had it right. The only thing more disgusting than the leaders is the people who are blindly supporting them.
Bend over America, San Fran Nan is going to do to us what seems to come natural for many or her constituents.
This is pretty much all window dressing. The House and the Senate Democrats have already compromised these bills so they look nothing like reform, but as Rahm said, they will pass anything just to get something passed. And they got the Democrats to do it! Until 2010. Open wide, America. Here it comes.
This bill is an insult to America. It is so an approach to force this kind of legislation through without a shred of honest cost control. Adding people increases demand, not reduce demand and the retail cost will go UP. Adding a tax on an already costly insurance policy makes it cost more (surprise). Not addressing the lack of Doctors and Medical facilities does not lower cost. Not placing limits on lawyers fees does not reduce costs. After the compromises this bill does everything wrong and nothing right. I hope the house revolts against Pelosi and the Senate and throws the whole thing overboard.
We want the public option!! How is it reform when the insurance companies are still running it?
Let's go Democrats!!!
I was originally behind the bill; however, the changes such as no public option to compete, and lower health insurance cost and requiring all citizens to purchase insurance to fatten the insurance companies pockets or be financially penalized, does not represent freedom, which I thought for 78 years, America stood for. Also, what happened to the no pork? Extremely unfair to give some states like Nebraska, Montana and Florida special deals at the expense of all states. Medicare as everyone knows has problems already without adding under age people without medical problems to it and cutting medicare for the current elderly. This Senate bill needs to be changed to help American citizens rather than Insurance companies and illegal aliens or it should NOT be passed. I will remember come time to vote again and so will most other citizens.
I am so proud to be a Democrat! They have really stepped up in spite of all of the lies being told about Health Care Reform. Look which party is trying to help the American people and which party is still standing firm for the insurance industry and trying to collect as much Lobbiest money as possible. The Republicans have the gall to act surprised at how politics works. It's all give and take for every state. How stupid do they really think the American people are. Oh, yeah, Sarah Palin is one of their leaders. Never mind.
Look, its Pelosi the Nazi and she is getting ready for the take over of our lives and to commit more treason against America and the Constitution
It is hard for me to beleive that with all the unemployment and foreclosers on homes and bussiness going on that all this effort is going for something that wont get people working enough to turn this recession around, maybe our elected officals will feel better if they are without a job, and without a home, but thank God they will have health care that they so strongly thought was on top of their must have list !!!
I thought is was Christmas time but I must be wrong; must be Holloween. The witch is speaking again giving us her usual demands and lies. Stop Pelosi.
Just get it done and get on with it!
they only passed the first bill by 5 votes and now they are being asked to eat crow again on abortion rights, the public option and non taxation of the wealthy.......
Can't wait to watch it fall apart in January amidst the fighting.
pro choice women have lost again as both the House and Senate bills prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion......this time, pro choice Democrats are going to make a stand for women's rights and the bill will go down in flames......
Trying to meld the House mess with the Senate Christmas giveaway to special interests should be a sizeable chore. Hopefully the whole National bankrupting disaster will go away. Then they can start over and do it the right way.
I realize it will take a bit to figure things out, but 2013 and 2014 are both ridiculous. If they want to help people, make it take effect in 2011. A year should be plenty of time to set up the exchanges.
They figure that the Senate bill just doesn't screw the hard working taxpaying people of this country enough and they can still get more money to make sure the dope smoking non taxpaying people they pay to vote for them from the honest people of this country. It is the Obama strategy. There will be so many clips of the Obama campaign promises and lies during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns there will not be enough air time to show them.
there should have been a public option or at least a trigger! How is it the 40% of anger republicans have the power to have more of a say then the other 60%?... can any one answer that for me?
I just hope the Blue Dogs don't turn into Yellow Dogs and will finally summon the courage to stick a dagger in the heart of this liberty-curtailing, tax raising monster of a bill.
Botox Pelosi will be put out to pasture in 2012. She and Harry Reid will be sent packing to the retirement home because Americans are sick and tired of Democrats spending their money in such a frivolous way. Goodbye wrinkle witch Pelosi BotoxBag.
Ya gotta wonder if the Public Option will get into the "merged" Health Care Bill? Lets hope so, It will almost guarantee that insurance costs will be reduced at the expense of Republican reelection campaign funds from the Insurance Companies.