Senate Democrats scrub August vote for healthcare plan

Obama now asks that Congress just ‘keep on working’

President Obama worked the crowd in Shaker Heights, Ohio, yesterday, where healthcare was the topic at a town hall meeting. He has staked much political credibility on an overhaul. President Obama worked the crowd in Shaker Heights, Ohio, yesterday, where healthcare was the topic at a town hall meeting. He has staked much political credibility on an overhaul. (Jason Reed/Reuters)
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Associated Press / July 24, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Senate Democratic leaders yesterday abandoned plans for a vote on a healthcare overhaul before Congress goes on recess next month, dealing a blow to President Obama’s ambitious timetable to revamp the nation’s $2.4 trillion system of medical care.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, delivered the official pronouncement, saying, “It’s better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through.’’

His words were a near-echo of Republicans who have criticized what they have called a rush to act on complex legislation that affects every American.

Obama shrugged off the delay.

“That’s OK, I just want people to keep on working,’’ Obama said at a town hall meeting on healthcare yesterday in Cleveland. “I want it done by the end of the year. I want it done by the fall.’’

“I don’t want a delay just because of politics,’’ he told the crowd.

Reid said the Senate Finance Committee will act on its portion of the bill before lawmakers’ monthlong break. Reid then will merge that bill with separate legislation passed by the Senate health committee earlier this month before taking legislation to the full Senate. The process will be difficult because the finance panel is seeking a bipartisan deal, while the health committee bill was passed by Democrats on a party-line vote.

Obama had pushed for votes in the House and Senate before the August recess to ensure that lawmakers had enough time to meld the two bills into comprehensive legislation by December - before the start of a politically charged congressional election year.

Obama has made nearly daily appeals for the overhaul in the past two weeks and has staked much of his political credibility on its success.

At the town hall, Obama likened his healthcare effort to the race to put a man on the moon 40 years ago, saying that some dismissed President Kennedy’s effort as “foolish, even impossible’’ and were proved wrong. Obama also took on his Republican critics, including GOP chairman Michael Steele, for saying that the healthcare overhaul was happening too soon.

“Reform may be coming too soon for some in Washington, but it’s not soon enough for the American people,’’ Obama said.

Reid said the decision to delay a vote was made Wednesday night in hopes of getting a final bill that can win at least 60 votes in the Senate. He said he had listened to requests from senior Republicans working with Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, to allow more time for a compromise to emerge.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable,’’ he said.

Nine freshman Senate Democrats, largely from swing states, also sent a letter to Baucus urging him to keep working toward a bipartisan solution.

But some Democrats are frustrated with the pace of fulfilling Obama’s goal of expanding coverage to Americans who lack it and containing rising costs.

“The Finance Committee keeps dragging their feet and dragging their feet and dragging their feet. It’s time for them to fish or cut bait,’’ Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said in a conference call with Iowa reporters.

In the House, Democratic leaders are struggling to win over rebellious moderates and conservative rank-and-file party members who are demanding changes to their version of the legislation. The dispute has forced the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Henry Waxman, to postpone work on the bill for three straight days while he negotiates.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, however, expressed concern that Obama and the leadership were making too many concessions to the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Leaders of the caucus said they had requested a meeting with Obama.

“We felt it was important that more than one voice be heard,’’ said Donna Christensen, the congressional delegate for the US Virgin Islands. “When we hear phrases like ‘squeezing more savings out of the system’ . . . we’re concerned that what may be taken out will be provisions that are critical to our communities.’’

Waxman’s committee is the last of three House panels trying to finish the $1.5 trillion, 10-year legislation that would create a government-run plan to compete with private insurance, increase taxes on the wealthy, and require employers and individuals to get health insurance.