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. m jeff

    If the Democrats want to get anything done with health reform, they better leave the Republicans out.

    January 6, 2010 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  2. ib

    another Obama disaster for the senior citizen is on it's way. Time to throw the bums out. This so called healthcare is ration care for seniors. Cap & scam will finish us. Thank you liberals.

    January 6, 2010 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  3. joec

    So much for transparency! For all of the American producers out there get ready to grab your ankles. BTW, have we renewed the Bush tax cuts yet? Everyone knew when the annointed magic negro got elected taxes would go up.

    January 6, 2010 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  4. all the news that's fit to omit

    Keep up the good work liberals, by cutting out ALL Republicans, ANY DEMOCRAT like Stupak that may have a beef and worst of all, the TAXPAYERS, you are signing your own death warrant come 2010 and 2012.

    I will act as one of the MILLION co-signers and liberals, RIP.

    January 6, 2010 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  5. all the news that's fit to omit

    Keep up the good work liberals, by cutting out ALL Republicans, ANY DEMOCRAT like Stupak that may have a beef and worst of all, the TAXPAYERS, you are signing your own death warrant come 2010 and 2012.

    I will act as one of the MILLION co-signers and liberals, RIP.

    The funerals can be held on C-SPAN for all to see, they WILL love that considering the liar in chief left them stranded as in "uh, uh, uh I will have the debate on C-SPAN with all sides represented for the whole world to see", my bad, just another LIE as Joe Wilson correctly said.

    January 6, 2010 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  6. Paul

    I truely believe things need to change as far as health care in this country. There are those whose need coverage and can not afford it; it will cost the US tax payer less getting them this coverage. There are also those who will be there looking for the "free ride" like always. This refrom is nothing different than welfare – those who need it and those who abuse it. I just hope all Americans know what is in this bill before it gets passed. So far the way it is going I'm not sure that is going to happen.

    January 6, 2010 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  7. Tom L

    10 years of collection of taxes for 6 years of services.

    That is how they said this will be deficit neutral. And you on the left are buying it.

    January 6, 2010 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  8. Tom L

    One of my favorites is when Democrats say that President Obama tried reeeeaaaallly hard to work with Republicans but they just weren't willing to work with him so he had to shut them out.

    If only he would take that same tough approach with the Iranians, the Venezuelans, the North Koreans, etc.

    January 6, 2010 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  9. Dean

    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.

    Obama and the democrats can say goodbye to the votes of the elderly . Maybe they could also increase the taxes on social security.

    January 6, 2010 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  10. Hammerer

    Why are the Dems afraid to allow C-SPAN to televise the process of merging the two bill?
    Is it that bad?
    Is it so bad that they can not pass it without buying votes, use threats, bribes and all of the things that are being said? Yes
    If the media is not under control of the administration why do they not expose the corruption. Are they getting bribed also? Probably
    The time has come to put a stop to this charade now!

    January 6, 2010 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  11. diridi

    listen, if health care is passed without "Public option", it tantamount to no health care at all. It clearly represents that all these senators are sold out to insurance thugs...ok...well Americans do not deserve this. Pass this with public option....first and talk then.....

    January 6, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  12. geo.

    Let's hear it for Obama's vision of "transparency". If you can't see through the plan of Obama, Pelosi and their crew by now, then you should try and get eye surgery through their new health plan, once they tell the rest of us what Obama wants it to be. Good luck with that! If the public, meaning Democrats, Republican's and Independents that represent the American people, don't revolt over Obama/Pelosi's methods, they have no business being in Congress. I can't believe so many can be coerced by so few. It is time for Congress to take a stand or forever be remembered as "cowards" for failing their constituents and the rest of the American people.

    January 6, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  13. Albo58

    Exactly what does O-Blamo know about this garbage bill? Like the TARP, Stimulous, and Cash for Clunkers bills, he has never read it! Furthermore, his urgentcy in passing this bill is based solely for his own arrogant and political reasons, though more than 50% of the country is totally against it. What a complete moron!

    January 6, 2010 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  14. Dawn Ada, Ohio

    As far as I am concerned if this bill does not have a public option they may as well throw it to the wolves and start from scratch. I am so disappointed in the Democrats, I can't believe that they have pissed away the last best chance to bring our Country into the 21 century. They allowed a few faux Democrats to ruin a bill that could actually benefit the middle class. Look the poor have medicaid, the rich can take care of themselves, but then there is the rest of us. I went from having 100% paid health insurance 5 years ago and paying $20 a pay, to paying 35 a pay. Then I went to 80/20 paying 50 a pay, then to 80/20 paying 85 dollars a pay(by the way I had a $250 deductible, but I had to pay extra for dental and eye coverage{35 a pay for dental and 16 for eye}) Now this year I am now have a $4000 deductible and a health savings account. All it will take is one major illness and I will lose everything. But the Republicans feel that my health insurance is just fine and the Dems have given in to a few faux dems who are on the take from the big insurance companies. WAKE UP AMERICA!!! Call your congressman/woman now and demand a public option. If you think it can't happen to you, YOU ARE WRONG!! I thought the same thing 5 years ago. WAKE UP!!!

    January 6, 2010 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  15. Dumb-o-CRAPS are runing America

    What happened to transparent bipartisanship? Guess those promises don't look so sweet when you want to screw America and get away with murder.

    January 6, 2010 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  16. Amber

    Transparency and CSPN was Obama's campaign promise and rhetoric on at least 8 occasions, including early in his administration of 2009. He is a complete liar and can't tell or speak the truth if it were his last breath. Under the darkness of night and behind closed doors the deed will be done. He's not just dissing the Republicans, he's dissing Americans!! And don't forget all the special groups who will be exempt from the monstrosity that might be health care like: the Amish, union workers and Scientologists. It is completely unconstitutional to mandate heath care purchases for some and exempt others. Obama is a disgrace on such a grand scale. Hope you all feel safe with him behind the wheel. He can't even manage to keep his own white house from being breached.

    January 6, 2010 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  17. sm

    It is time to get this done, The Republicans didn't want to do anything for the American people but steal their money and leave the Middle Class people out in the cold. It is time the Dems get this done so we can move on to Cap and Trade. We have alot of things that need to be done for this great country so lets roll and get this done now.

    January 6, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  18. Nini

    Nancy Pelosy is shame less.

    California you can do much better than her.

    The most polarizing, manipulative and divisive figure I have ever seen.

    We are losing a part of America on a daily basis.

    January 6, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  19. Michael from Ventura

    You baggers who seem to have no trouble helping 45,000 fellow Americans DIE EACH YEAR because of no or lost healthcare squeal like pigs under a gate when you don't get your way. "Your way" is why this country is in such dilema today. The Dems helped, but you Obstructionists led the way. Shut up and come up with a legitimate plan!

    January 6, 2010 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  20. Jim

    We need this reform. If Republicans wanted to be part of the process, they shouldn't have negotiated in the Senate while going out and saying that Democrats want to kill grandma.

    Let's face it. The Republicans are using Maoist tactics to get back into power: disable the government until everyone hates the incumbents. They may gain ground with their delay tactics, but America loses ground. We need both parties to care about America more than their own power and work to solve our problems.

    January 6, 2010 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  21. Obama - Most partisan President Ever

    While spurning his supporters and breaking his promises to voters, anll the while ignoring the wishes of a majority of Americans, Obama has gone underground on a partisan mission to wreak havoc on our health care system and our budget.

    President Obama has become soiled with Democratic partisan politics and has gone over to the dark side. He has disgraced himself and his roots by succumbing to the power that is Washington. Obama is fast becoming the poster child for the old adage that "absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Obama could have done historic things as the first black President, but he has turned his back on history and the American public, and he will go down in history as one of the most reckless, partisan, and two faced presidents in history.

    January 6, 2010 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  22. Pragmatic

    What about the Medicare Part D debate from 2003-04?

    Oh! The House republicans shut down C span during that debate.

    January 6, 2010 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  23. James Napoli

    The Repulicans are against health care reform and have offered no alternative but the status quo -many uninsured Americans. They fought as hard as they could to prevent the bill from moving along. If they were truly interested in the bill or reform , they had their chance to work cooperativley . But the Party of NO passed at their opportunity. They are not needed at this point. This bill needs to be passed to provide insurance to Americans who need it , are igonred by the Pary of NO. I applaud the Democrats for taking action and being tenacious to overcome the years, indeed, decades of inertia on this issue.

    January 6, 2010 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  24. Gonzo in Houston

    The GOP seems to have forgotten the second part of bi-partisanship. The first part is that they are included in writing the bill.

    The second is that they vote for what gets written.

    Any wonder why the meetings will be Dem-only?

    January 6, 2010 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  25. Carol Stanton

    This better pass.....and why is no one helping senior citizens who's only income is Soc Security...The are in a Depression, not a Recession

    January 6, 2010 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
1 2 3 4 5