When Congress reconvenes on Thursday of this week, health care will continue to be the top priority. The task is to hammer out the differences between the House and Senate health care reform bills in an effort to make one bill that both houses can approve. A recently released 11-page chart compiled by House staff lists the ‘top-line’ differences between the two bills, which number over 50. The differences range from the amount of taxes levied to the minimum benefit package offered in the exchanges, and does not include the countless other minor and technical differences.
Yesterday, Speaker Pelosi met with the Chairs of the three Committees that had a hand in writing the bill to begin discussing the changes that will need to be made to win approval in the Senate. Last night, the Speaker and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) met with President Obama at the White House. Joining in by phone were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). Reports of the meeting indicated that the President wants a final bill that includes a tax on Cadillac insurance plans, an independent Medicare commission and that he wants to pass reform in time for his State of the Union address. President Obama also indicated that, while he supports the public option, he does not think it is doable in this bill.
The full Democratic House Caucus is scheduled to meet on Thursday, and the Speaker is likely to ask Members what they need to see in the final bill. Many pundits are speculating that the Democrats will skip a formal Conference Committee and will instead use informal discussions to reach an agreement. This could save them time by bypassing the three separate votes that are required before negotiators for the two houses may hold a formal meeting, as well as any number of procedural votes that Republicans could request to stall time. A spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said this week, “Something as critical as the Democrats' health care bill, with its Medicare cuts and tax hikes, shouldn't be slapped together in a shady backroom deal. Skipping a real, open Conference shuts out the American people and breaks one of President Obama's signature campaign promises.”
C-SPAN chief executive Brian Lamb, who has long fought for more television access in Congress, is now asking House and Senate leadership to allow cameras inside while members hammer out differences between the two health care bills.