January 6th, 2010
04:54 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama meets with House Democrats on health care

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading House Democrats met with the president Wednesday about health care reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading House Democrats met with the president Wednesday about health care reform.

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama met Wednesday with House Democratic leaders who face the likelihood of having a final health care bill look much more like the Senate's version than their measure.

The meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of the three House committees that approved health care legislation was part of efforts by Obama and top Democrats to merge the separate House and Senate bills into a final version capable of winning approval in both chambers.

After the 90-minute meeting, Pelosi said progress had been made on coming up with a merged bill, but more work remained.

"We will bring the bill to the floor when we are ready, and hopefully that will be very soon," Pelosi said. Asked about issues on which the House and Senate bills agree and differ, Pelosi responded that the final bill would make health insurance more affordable and hold the insurance industry more accountable.

"We really have to be able to sell it, not just to our Democratic caucus but to the American people," added Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, who also was in the meeting with Obama.

Senior Democratic sources say Democrats are prepared to short-circuit the traditional legislative process of a formal conference committee comprising House and Senate members to exclude their Republican counterparts during final congressional health care deliberations.

Democrats are trying to prevent the Republicans from using Senate rules to slow the push for final passage of a comprehensive reform bill, the sources said.

"There's clearly a tactic of slowing down progress on behalf of the American people," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday of GOP maneuvers in the Senate. When asked if Obama supported avoiding a formal conference committee, Gibbs said: "The president wants to get a bill to his desk as quickly as possible."

Republicans, in turn, are pushing to allow open media coverage of the final negotiations - a move many observers believe would complicate House and Senate Democrats' ability to forge a consensus.

The full House of Representatives is not scheduled to return from vacation until January 12; the Senate meets January 19. But top representatives and senators, as well as their aides, have already been discussing the issue.

Congressional leaders are working to merge an $871 billion Senate bill and $1 trillion House bill that differ on several critical details.

Democratic leaders hope to get a bill to Obama's desk by early February, near the time of the president's State of the Union address, several Democratic sources have said. Pelosi, D-California, admitted last month that this deadline could slip.

Should the measure that emerges from House-Senate negotiations become law, it would constitute the biggest expansion of federal health care guarantees since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid more than four decades ago.

Formal House-Senate negotiations, under the ordinary legislative process, would likely have started shortly after both houses of Congress reconvene.

In order to hold a formal conference, the committee members from both the House and Senate must be formally appointed by both bodies, with resolutions passed by both chambers. One Democratic leadership aide said getting those resolutions passed in the Senate could delay and even derail Democratic efforts, because Republicans would be allowed to offer amendments and hold lengthy debates on the resolutions to appoint conferees.

Another potential complication: a recent request from C-SPAN head Brian Lamb to allow television coverage of House-Senate negotiations.

C-SPAN is a non-profit cable entity largely devoted to coverage of Congress.

"Hard-working families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind closed doors," House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a letter to Lamb released Tuesday. "Secret deliberations are a breeding ground for more of the kickbacks, shady deals and special-interest provisions that have become business as usual in Washington. Too much is at stake to have a final bill built on payoffs and pork-barrel spending."

Gibbs avoided commenting directly on the C-SPAN request Wednesday, saying the health care debate so far had been fully covered in the news media.

Democrats said it was impossible to predict what kind of coverage might be possible, given that it is unclear at best if there will be any formal negotiations.

"We will continue to keep the American people informed," promised Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a member of the House Democratic leadership.

"There has never been a more open process for any legislation," Pelosi asserted. But "we will do what is necessary to pass the bill."

Many observers believe the more liberal House measure will be largely forced to conform to the Senate bill. The traditionally fractious 60-member Senate Democratic caucus struggled to unify behind a single measure, and needs to remain united in order to overcome solid Republican opposition.

However, the House also narrowly passed its health care bill on a 220-215 vote.

The different approach to financing in the House and Senate bills is one of the many differences to be reconciled.

The House measure is paid for through a combination of a tax surcharge on wealthy Americans and new Medicare spending reductions. Individuals with annual incomes over $500,000 - as well as families earning more than $1 million - would face a 5.4 percent income tax surcharge.

The Senate bill also cuts Medicare by roughly $500 billion. But instead of an income tax surcharge on the wealthy, it would impose a 40 percent tax on insurance companies that provide what are called "Cadillac" health plans valued at more than $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families.

Proponents of the tax on high-end plans argue it's one of the most effective ways to curb medical inflation. However, House Democrats oppose taxing such policies because it would hurt union members who traded higher salaries for more generous health benefits.

Back in December, Obama predicted the final bill will probably end up with a variation of both the income tax surcharge and the tax on high-end plans.

The Senate bill also would hike Medicare payroll taxes on families making over $250,000; the House bill does not.

Another key sticking point is the dispute over a government-run public health insurance option. The House plan includes a public option; the more conservative Senate package would instead create non-profit private plans overseen by the federal government.

Pelosi, when asked about the public option on Tuesday, said that Democrats' goal has always been to hold insurance companies accountable while increasing competition and affordability.

"There are other ways to do that" aside from the public option, she asserted. Insurance companies will be held accountable and will "be crying out for the public option one of these days."

Updated: 5:17 p.m.

–CNN's Dana Bash, Lisa Desjardins, Alan Silverleib, Deirdre Walsh and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

Filed under: Democrats • Health care • House • President Obama
soundoff (103 Responses)
  1. john in texas

    I find it interesting that those who would like to spend our tax dollars in a fiscally responsible manner are accused of wanting the poor to die!! We want the poor to be successful and able to provide for themselves. We dont think that throwing money at a problem will neccessarily fix it. If it makes YOU feel better to throw money down a hole the go right ahead. I want value for my money and this health care bill doesnt cut the mustard in that regard!!

    January 6, 2010 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  2. People's Voice

    It's about time you told the Repugs to kiss you butts. Now we can get some work done.

    January 6, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. racoco

    These fascist Democrats need to know that even after they leave office the scourge of this disaster they have created will follow them. If I see them in an airport, at a public meeting, resturant, anywhere, they will hear from me. As long as they live.

    January 6, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  4. R. E. Groover

    I continue to be dismayed by the chasm between campaign rhetoric and political reality. The bipartisan approach President Obama declared his devotion to during his campaign is painfully absent in the relentless push to pass something - anything - in the name of healthcare reform.

    January 6, 2010 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  5. Glen Beck is king of the morons

    Ronald Raygun raised taxes,but the Republicans dont ever want it said.You have to pay for what you buy,not put it on the debit card for the next President.

    January 6, 2010 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  6. racoco

    Oooo....will someone PLEASE put a bag over the head of this over botoxed pile of crap ?

    January 6, 2010 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  7. Carole

    EIGHT years the Republicans did nothing on health care.

    The bill is online for those looking for transparency.

    The Republicans only want POWER not help the American People.....maybe they are busy teabagging. LOL

    January 6, 2010 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  8. SWGutto

    For those who think that the Democrats should exclude the Republicans from the discussion because it will facillitate sealing the Health Care Reform deal, remember that the government runs in cycles. Would they have been comfortable or accepting if George Bush excluded the Democrats from policy making during 2000 – 2006 when Republicans owned all three houses?

    Despite some indications to the contrary, this is a Democracy. And all voices should be heard around the table. Something my "enlightened" friends on the Left seem to have forgotten.

    January 6, 2010 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  9. To All Dems: For the Record

    Do not let the Rethugs get away with saying Bush "protected" the country. That's like saying the gang members "protected" the neighborhood. Bush did not protect this country–Hello, 9-11 and Katrina. The worst attack this country ever had was on Bush's watch, and the worst response to the inept Corp of Engineers Katrina debacle was on Bush's watch. He did not protect the country and he did not protect his legacy. He is the 7th worst president ever, and with good reason.

    So the next time someone says Bush protected us, laugh in their stupid faces.

    January 6, 2010 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  10. JustBoredWithItAll

    If I came out to be inclusive and encouraged bi-partisonship just to be met with attacks on everyting I ever did or proposed since day one and had the deal with statements like "we want you to fail" from the other side, I and any clear thinking person would eventually take the same course the Democrats are taking now. I am surprised they stuck with trying to deal with the Republicans and their childish tactics for this long. Stick the public option back in and push it through. Enough of this wait and see what they say then put any twist on it we can tactics.

    January 6, 2010 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  11. racoco

    No mention anywhere by CNN about Mr. Obama total lack of transparency with regards to this issue. Nada. And no mention at all about C-SPANS offer to help Obama fulfill his campaign pledge. Screw you CNN. We will all remember you after the Progressive/Fascist/Democrats are booted from Congress later this year.

    January 6, 2010 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  12. Dimslie

    This time next year we can be rid of Nancy Pelosi.

    January 6, 2010 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  13. BJ

    What a liar!

    January 6, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  14. CRob

    And when will these meetings be airing on CSPAN as promised???

    January 6, 2010 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  15. Obamacare is going down......

    one way or another.......either the House and Senate will never agree or the next Congress will overturn it.......

    January 6, 2010 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  16. RobertJ

    Of course, Robert Glib cannot publicly answer that question. Everyone knows the answer, but Glib is not going to say "My boss doesn't care about his promises if they become inconvenient."

    This legislation is desperately in need of continuing public debate. Apparently Obama, Reid and Pelosi don't believe it can stand up to that exposure. Nor do they believe they can pass it without a lot more of the slimy secret deal-making we've already seen.

    January 6, 2010 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  17. Chris - Denver

    Republican only care about stalling and grandstanding. They don't deserve to be part of the process. They had their chance.

    January 6, 2010 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  18. Lynne in CA

    Republicans have proven for over 60 years that they are against any kind of social reform that does not benefit their corporatist cronies. The Party of No has taken obstructionism to a whole new level in this current fight against special interests and corrupt insurance industry practices.

    January 6, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  19. Sea.gem

    ...all those campaign promises of openness on debate...everything on C-Span, no backroom deals...down the drain...when will you Libs tell the obvious of two truths...your Obama is a liar...or you really want nothing to do with bi-partisanship...either way, you still lie toyourselves about your candidate.

    January 6, 2010 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  20. Christine

    <> means -

    American payroll taxes = $871 to $1.871 Trillion + $ Democrats (WH, Pelosi, Reid, Nelson, etal) bribe pocket money/changes + $ unknown cost (governmetn always spend above beyond estimated cost).

    So brace yourself hard-working Americans, you will pay for all these expenses. Good for those that awaits for ENTITLEMENT - You are very lucky. I am not because I have to pay for YOU and have to work hard so Obama can hand to you my MONEY FROM MY SWEAT, PAYROLL AND FAMILY SACRIFICES --

    January 6, 2010 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  21. Doug

    Health Care = Loss of Power for Democrats in 2010 and 2012 and massive taxes on everyone who pays taxes.

    January 6, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  22. Just Say No to Socialism

    Got to love this change and transperancy. Check out youtube where they have 8 clips of Obama on the campaign trail saying the healthcare debate would be open and televised on cpan. I was never fooled by Obama but those who beleived in the hype have to be pissed that he is just another politician.

    January 6, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  23. W l Jones

    The Repubs made there money when they had free labor or nearly free labor so they can afford to pay theirs own healthcare. We the people of this great country can thank the Democratio for the middle class and a livable wage.

    January 6, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  24. WIlly Brown

    Democrats in Congress do you hear the drums yet? The Americian People are coming and they are pissed!

    January 6, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  25. libs are funny little critters

    I cannot believe these idiots are in charge.

    January 6, 2010 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
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