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. Sarah

    "we will do what is necessary to pass the bill:"
    What about what the American People want?

    Here is what we don't want...
    Take from the elderly (500 billion reduction in Medicare)
    Tax on "cadillac plans", that's just gonna = increase in premiums which we will pay in the form of higher prices.
    Politicians who promised bi-partisanship and transparency forgetting that democracy is allowing the representatives that THE PEOPLE ELECTED, TO REPRESENT THE PEOPLE WHO ELECTED THEM.
    They are forcing their idea of ideal healthcare on literally hundreds of millions of people who DON'T WANT IT.

    January 6, 2010 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  2. dominic

    "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session."

    January 6, 2010 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  3. Scott

    Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they are not going to support any kind of health care reform, and thay have spread the most disgusting lies about it (think "death committees"). They have forfeited any right to be at the table for House-Senate negotiations on health care. If you can't play an honest game, GOP, then shut up and go home.

    January 6, 2010 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  4. Billy J..Texas..

    Well, if the Democrats DO lose it will be because they don't know how to spin the very same kind of tactics that the Republicans used when they were in power. I can't believe everyone's memory is so short.

    January 6, 2010 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  5. Peggy

    I to made a big mistake by voting for Obama. I fell for all his lies..... I'd like to know from his own mouth just who he really is. He's certainly not a real American.

    January 6, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  6. nick

    ahhhh listen.
    I need you guys to......... rollover and..... take it in the end.
    because if you do not......................................
    I will throw you under the bus.

    Yes we can.

    January 6, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  7. Emmanuel Goldstein

    This is a huge gift to the GOP. Now the dems cannot say that they did not offer constructive alternatives. Not only did all those alternatives get ignored by the committee heads, now the GOP is being shut out of the room.

    Consequently, if premiums skyrocket, employers drop coverage, the deficit balloons, and folks perceive that Obamacare is a flop, the GOP can say "Don't blame us, they took full responsibility and rammed it down our throats, America."

    If I were John Boehner, I'd be high-fiving McConnell right now.

    January 6, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  8. fred

    You are right when you say the Republicans don't care about you. You are also right when you say the Dem don't care about you. As a matter of fact there are no politicians who care about you.

    January 6, 2010 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  9. Sarah

    This is going to cost Democrats more votes in the long run than it would have if the bill had taken a little longer to get passed.

    It's hard to convince yourself to vote for people who straight up lied, no matter how much loyalty you have for the party.

    It should always be COUNTRY BEFORE PARTY

    January 6, 2010 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  10. Enough

    Charles Rangel should be in jail, not shoving this disaster of a health care bill down our throats.

    January 6, 2010 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  11. SLM

    Ugghh, must you place that hideous womans picture in the middle of this story? Is that ugly mug supposed to convince us we need this crappy bill?

    January 6, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  12. MatthewDetroit

    It is a bad bill..... Just SAY NO.

    This is crap. It will cost American Taxpayers more money...

    Healthcare... More Money More Socialism
    Global Warming.... More Money More Socialism
    Cap And Trade..... More Money More Socialism
    GM AND Chrysler..... More Money More Socialism

    Unemployment...... RISING and AT 10.2%

    You had a heck of a year barack you idiot....you are RUINING the AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE.... and you are killing us all in the process.

    January 6, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  13. Platinum

    Actually, instead of all this harping, complaining, whining, etc.... We, the People, should be thanking President Obama.

    He's now showing everyone, not just the people who didn't vote for him, what politics is all about. Tell the lie to get elected, wipe your butt with the Constitution after election, screw the American people (those of us who WORK for a living instead of VOTING for a living), take a vacation with friends on our dime, come back and TOTALLY IGNORE campaign promises broken. Heck, the call-out about transparency didn't even come from FOX!

    Thanks, Obama. Change is not always for the best. Even your own pet rats are now jumping ship.

    January 6, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  14. Gerry NH

    When is this Chicago mobster going to quit threating and bribing people and try and run the country for the good of the people. We need to get rid of all incumbents. These people shoud never be allowed to be in office for more than two terms.

    January 6, 2010 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  15. Darin

    How's that 'Hope and Change' working for you all. Obama LIED about openness, Pelosi said '...this is the most open process in history'. Really...do you all feel that, we American's are betting bent over and stuffed right up the back side...

    January 6, 2010 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  16. Mary

    You republicians was given opportunity time and time again to accct like adults and be a part of Health Care Reform. You chose to take your ball and go home, oh, I mean to vote "NO" on everything. Now that progress has been made, you cry you are being shut out. PLEASE, you guys think Americans are stupid and don't see through what you are trying to do. You've made all kind of noise, bee un-american, sexist, a nd radical. But guess what, progress will not be blocked by you. And by the way, this isn't the only thing that will backfire ou your stupid way of protesting OBAMA. Just sit back and just keep saying "NO".

    January 6, 2010 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  17. Aukala

    OMG. Now, SHE's taking it behind close doors. I really believed the President when he said his administration would be open – played out in front of the American people, step by step. Why doesn't he rein in Pelosi? As a PROUD new American citizen, I must say that I'm extremely disappointed in what's going on in Washington.

    January 6, 2010 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  18. LacrosseMom(stuck in moderation)

    Wow....... the GOP-haters are out today. Each year 45,000 Americans die because they do not have healthcare, and the GOP do not care.

    However, the GOP is in an uproar over an attempted terrorist attack!

    The chances of an American being killed in a terrorist attack is:

    ONE in 80,000....... the same as being killed by a meteor!

    Still 45,000 Americans DIED in 2009 because they lacked healthcare and the GOP ....... do not care!

    January 6, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  19. Callahan....just sayin'

    I find this VERY creepy that negotiations of the bill was closed out to the Senate and House and is now being held with select few in secret..oh, excuse me..confrenece. That is so unAmerican....just sayin'.

    January 6, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  20. Get real!

    Leave it to the Democrats to do EXACTLY opposite of what they promised. Not so much "change we can believe in." The only change I see is the address change the Obama's filed with the postal service! The only people they are hurting (besides the American people) are themselves; the Republicans don't need to do better, the Democrats are going to put themselves out of office!!

    January 6, 2010 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  21. Terry from West Texas

    There is no reason for Republican participation. Republican leaders only want to make sure the bill fails or it is a terrible bill. They want to return to power. If middle-class Americans have to suffer, that is no problem for Conservatives. The unhappier Americans are, the more likely they'll be angry enough to vote a George Bush clone into office.

    Ordinary Americans just cannot understand that to the Conservative mentality, life divides the human race into losers and winners. The middle class are losers. The lower class doesn't exist (let them eat cake). Only the wealthy matter because they are the winners. Winners deserve what they've got. Losers just are not important.

    You and I do not matter to Conservative leaders except on election day. Those who vote for Conservatives who make less than $250k annually are voting for a crappy life for themselves and their children.

    January 6, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  22. ThinkAgain

    Republicans have shown time and time again, with actions and words, that all they want to do is obstruct, in a very cynical ploy to regain control of Congress in 2010.

    Republicans are part of the problem, not part of the solution – go around them, through them, under them – whatever – just get health care reform passed.

    I believe the following are extremely important and must be part of the final bill:

    – A robust public option to guarantee true competition in the health care marketplace

    – No exclusions for pre-existing conditions

    – No "trigger"

    – No Stupak-type amendments

    These changes would result in a healthier, more productive populace. This is a win-win for both families and business.

    January 6, 2010 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  23. Maggie

    You all sound like the Rush-man. Like him, you have not read the bill on health care- you just take his word for it's contents. Would you actually watch a discusson on it, not likely. Why don't you let these folks who are trying to give your country some credibility by doing the job that you, the majority, hired them to do. Give the whining a rest. It's getting tiresome.

    January 6, 2010 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  24. Steve Illinois

    It's almost laughable! They go behind closed doors to block out the Republicans, and in the mean time, the majority of Democrats in Congress also get no say in any part of this joke of a bill. The difference is, when this lead balloon drops on the American people, ALL the Democrats will "own" it. Like my Daddy used to say "Ya can't polish a turd!"

    January 6, 2010 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  25. YBM

    This whole Obama thing is real fishy. I am no Hillary Clinton fan but Obama should never have been able to beat her in the primaries. A first term junior Senator that spent his first two years voting present and his last two years campaigning for the office of President, against Hillary's experience and popularity? and winning???? That by itself smells, but then to win the presidency of the US??? This whole situation is rank. No thinking or intelligent person could have voted for this guy if they really listened to what he said and thought it through. I guess it shows the dumbing down of America is working. America is being sent the same way the Roman Empire went and for the same reasons. Only a lot faster. At least the Roman's had a thousand years or so.

    January 6, 2010 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
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