Health Care Piles On Before Congressional Recess
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Health care is front and center this week in Congress. House Democratic leaders had hoped to pass a sweeping overhaul bill before heading out of town this week for the August recess. The Senate Finance Committee is still trying to forge a bipartisan plan.
Here to explain all that and more is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. And David, there were conflicting messages from the House late last week on health care. The talks were on, the talks were off, there'd be a vote, maybe not. Catch us up on the state of play.
DAVID WELNA: Yeah, that's right, Liane. I'd say the health care juggernaut seems headed for a bit of a time-out now, as members of Congress head home over the next couple of weeks for that August recess. And they may leave Washington with no bill to tout. And that's because just a day after President Obama's primetime news conference on Wednesday, which was meant to reenergize the health care momentum but ended up making more news about the arrest of black Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would not be able to hold a vote by the full Senate on health care before the August break, which had been Mr. Obama's deadline.
That same day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the House would vote on a health care bill before leaving town. But then late on - in the day on Friday, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, started backpedaling on that and made it sound very much like the House won't vote on health care either until Congress reconvenes in September.
STENY HOYER: I've been in discussions with the White House. They want to see us make progress. And they, I'm sure, will join with us when we have a committee product out of the three committees, to then work with us and bring those bills together. That may take some time. And so, as I said, we may be working on that through the August break.
WELNA: In other words, House Democrats will try to use the August break to merge the health care bills that two committees have already approved in the House and which the Energy And Commerce Committee has yet to approve. The Senate would also use the August recess to try to merge a more liberal bill, which has already been approved by one committee and a more conservative bill that has yet to be approved by the Finance Committee. Lots of balls in the air and it's not clear yet where they're going to land.
HANSEN: So, what are the main fault lines in the House and in the Senate?
WELNA: Well, in the House things have gotten very complicated - not so much because of Republicans who almost uniformly oppose the health care proposals but who don't have the numbers to stop them - but because of the centrist Democrats known as the Blue Dogs, the main bones of contention as it were over a public health care plan, which the Blue Dogs oppose. And another contention of theirs is that what's been proposed so far for fixing health care does very little to bend down the ever-rising cost curve.
In the Senate, Democrats are still trying to win bipartisan backing for health care, but doing that could mean ruling out a public plan. And it might also mean taxing health care benefits, which most Democrats oppose. So expect to see a whole lot of ads airing from both sides of this debate during the August break.
HANSEN: In the minute we have left, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote this week on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Any surprises?
WELNA: Well, if there's any uncertainty, it's not whether Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed, but by how big a margin and especially by how many Republicans. So far the only Republican on the committee who's promised to vote for her is South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. Utah's Orrin Hatch, who's the most senior Republican and who's never opposed any other Supreme Court nominee says he's voting against her.
HANSEN: Be an interesting week. Other bills, last week, a defense policy bill.
WELNA: Right. And there were two big votes on that bill that were big ones for President Obama. One shot down funding for seven F-22 fighter jets after he issued his first veto threat to block them. And the other stymied a bill that would've allowed carrying concealed loaded weapons across state lines just about everywhere. But the president's clout is really going to be tested getting health care done this year.
HANSEN: NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna. Thank you.
WELNA: You're welcome, Liane.