House Democratic leaders vowed Wednesday to pass a comprehensive overhaul of the health care system before the August recess.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and the chairmen of three committees with jurisdiction over health care made the pledge following a morning meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office. Obama portrayed the effort as a necessary step for containing long-term budget deficits.
“We’ve got to get it done this year, both in the House and the Senate, and we don’t have any excuses. The stars are aligned,” Obama said.
Obama is trying to build momentum for an effort that would to expand access to health insurance and overhaul Medicare payments, possibly allowing the government to negotiate Medicare outpatient prescription drug prices.
Wednesday’s announcement came two days after six health care industry groups met with the president and pledged to cut the growth of health care costs by $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
It also was part of a push by the White House to get congressional Democrats on the same page on their message to the public about the urgency and necessity of a broad health care overhaul. More meetings were planned later in the day with Senate Democrats, although the president was not scheduled to address them.
House Republicans held their own “message” session a week ago with Frank Luntz, the author of the book “Words That Work,” about the political effect of specific phrases and words. Luntz offered Republicans a detailed presentation on what language to use when talking about health care and how to attack Democratic proposals, along with a long list of “don’ts.”
Obama reiterated Wednesday that the overhaul Congress sends to him must adhere to three basic principles: reducing costs, allowing people who like their current coverage to keep it, and ensuring all Americans have access to affordable, quality care.
“We’re seeing now that traditional opponents of health care reform are embracing these ideas. They see that the time is now,” Obama said of the May 11 promise lauded the promise Monday by six key industry groups representing hospitals, doctors, insurers, health care workers, drug companies and medical-device companies to cut $2 trillion from the growth of health costs over the next decade.
In the Senate, the Finance Committee on Tuesday began hearings on how to pay for an overhaul expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. One option under consideration is to modify the tax exclusion of health care benefits that workers receive through their jobs.
Obama welcomed Pelosi’s pledge to pass a bill by July 31, saying it reflected “the kind of urgency and determination we need to achieve what I believe will be historic legislation.”
House leaders previously pledged to mark up an overhaul bill by early summer and bring it to the floor soon after. Senate Democrats have said they plan committee markups in June.
Should the House meet its July 31 deadline, Senate Republicans would be under intense pressure to vote for a negotiated health care compromise or see Senate Democrats tackle the overhaul under the budget reconciliation instructions that would make it immune to filibuster in the Senate.
Democrats contend they see reconciliation as a fallback option if a deal can’t be reached by Oct. 15, and would prefer to move health care through the regular order. Republicans are highly skeptical the fast-track process won’t be used if available.