Lawmakers Says Health Care Overhaul Unlikely Before Next Month’s Recess

July 13, 2009 - 5:02 AM
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Washington (AP) - Lawmakers from both parties are telling the White House they will go on vacation next month and leave behind -- and incomplete -- President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
 
White House officials sought a massive reworking of the nation's health care system before Congress left on August recess, but key lawmakers signaled on Sunday the administration would be disappointed. Work was set to continue Monday on the Senate's version, although officials acknowledge they are far from finished with a plan that could cost taxpayers trillions over the next decade and reshape how Americans receive care.
 
"Well, we don't expect it to be signed into law by the August recess," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "But we expect the House and Senate to have passed bills, yes."
 
The same bill? Unlikely.
 
The White House's strategy to leave the legislative back-and-forth to Congress has produced varying and sometimes contradictory versions of health care legislation -- along with delays. As the Senate turns its attention to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, the focus on that side of the Capitol will turn away from Obama's top domestic priority.
 
The administration's Democratic partners in Congress hinted they would not deliver legislation before leaving town for an August recess. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Obama should be pleased with lawmakers' progress; Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said "there really is plenty of time."
 
The delay would be a blow to the White House and to Democrats' electoral prospects.
 
The House and Senate are working toward legislation that would deliver on Obama's popular goals from his presidential campaign, but they are hardly in unison. House Democrats have proposed raising taxes on wealthy Americans to pay for the plan. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have tried to calm moderate and conservative lawmakers about a proposal that could guarantee tough re-election bids.
 
Republicans, seizing on an issue that affects all Americans and has shown a glimmer of hope for an out-of-power political party, have lambasted the proposals as rash and irresponsible. They also see the issue as a way to win House and Senate seats in the 2010 midterm elections.
 
"There is no chance that it's going to be done by August," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. "President Obama was right about one thing: He said if it's not done quickly, it won't be done at all. Why did he say that? Because the longer it hangs out there, the more the American people are skeptical, anxious and even in opposition to it."
 
Obama's Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, tried to calm fears Democrats would tax some employer-provided health care benefits as income. She said the details are far from finished.
 
"Well, the House has a version," she said, discounting any version as final. "There are a couple of different proposals being worked on in the Senate."
 
Schumer appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press." Stabenow, Conrad and Sebelius spoke with CNN's "State of the Union." Kyl appeared on ABC's "This Week."