Debate Over Health Care Gets More Intense
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
We begin this hour with the debate of over health care. It's getting more intense. President Obama is taking his argument for health care overhaul to the American people this week. It dominated his news conference last night. And today, the president hosted a health care town hall in Cleveland. Back in Washington though the fate an overhaul is as uncertain as ever. We've asked NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner to come in and help us sort all this out. And Julie, the president, just this afternoon, he acknowledged, conceded really, what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier today, that there will be no vote on health care before the August recess. Does that surprise you?
JULIE ROVNER: No, this is really just a formal recognition of the reality of the situation. The Senate only has two more weeks before it leaves for its recess, that's not nearly enough time to get this off the Senate floor, and frankly only one of the two Senate committees has completed its work. The Finance Committee, the committee with really most of the jurisdiction over this issue, is and has been huddled behind closed doors for more than a month now trying to hammer out a bipartisan compromise. They say they're making progress and I take them at their word. I don't think they'd be meeting everyday if they weren't making some progress, but they're not finished yet. Now, something else that Senator Reid did say today is, that while the Senate isn't going to finish its work before the August recess, he does want the Finance Committee to finish its work. So they have two more weeks and I think everybody expects that that's probably doable.
BRAND: Okay, let's look at the House now. That was one on a faster track it seemed to getting its bill voted on, but it doesn't seem that that's going to happen soon either.
ROVNER: Well, that's right. As of now it's not clear what the state of things are in the House. There's three committees working on a bill there, two have finished. The third is stuck because there's enough of those conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrats to block a vote. Now technically the House doesn't have to wait for that third committee, and there was apparently a very contentious meeting of House Democratic leaders this morning. Here's how Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it at her weekly news conference.
Representative Nancy Pelosi (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): I've invited the views of members in terms of some of the issues and the timing as we go forward. And it was pretty exciting, but there was definitely a sentiment in the meeting that members wanted to get this done before the break.
BRAND: And Julie, why wouldn't the House want to vote before the recess?
ROVNER: Well, it's a risk. They've got this big tax increase in the bill for the families who earn more than $350,000 a year. They may not want to vote for it, the Senate ended up doing something completely different and that tax doesn't end up in the bill. On the other hand, when Congress leaves town for five weeks in the summer, it creates this vacuum that lets opponents of various pieces of legislation nibble away at it. When they come back it's always harder to put things together.
BRAND: Mm-hmm. Well, let's look again at the news conference last night. A lot of people said that this was the president's pivotal moment, that he needed to convince people to support this. Did he do that?
ROVNER: Well, he certainly tried to do that. I think there's a couple of places where the president may have sort of misstated a few things. There was one place, where he said that he wasn't going to let it add to the deficit. Here's what he said.
President BARACK OBAMA: I've also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it.
BRAND: Julie, little fact checking here, any place where he overstated his case?
ROVNER: Well, I think that was the place. And I think, you know, there's about $250 billion in the bill that would go to help doctors not take a 20 percent pay cut next year. The administration says it's not going to count that towards the - towards how much the bill costs, the congressional budget office begs to disagree. They said that money is being spent. So, there's a distinction about whether or not you think that adds to the deficit or not. I guess it's people's call to make on their own.
BRAND: NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner. Julie, thank you.
ROVNER: You're very welcome.
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