McConnell: Senate Won't Rush On Health Care Bill

While President Obama is in Asia, his lieutenants are struggling to enact the centerpiece of his domestic program: overhauling health care. The Senate is poised to take up the measure this week, but Republican leader Mitch McConnell warns that no one should expect passage anytime soon.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

While President Obama is in Asia, his lieutenants at home are struggling to enact health care reform. The Senate is ready to take up the measure this week, although Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warns that nobody should expect passage anytime soon.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Look, we spent four weeks on a farm bill in the last Congress, eight weeks on an energy bill earlier this decade. This will be on the floor for quite a long time. I think it ought to be on the floor at least as it's been in Harry Reid's office.

INSKEEP: Senator McConnell speaking on �Fox News Sunday,� referring to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Health care is just one of the issues on the political plate this week, and we're going to get a preview with NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: From the way that Senator McConnell spoke there, it sounds like we've got lots and lots and lots and lots of time to keep talking about health care.

ROBERTS: He didn't sound terribly happy, did he? Well, there are lots of problems here, and every day, another story emerges on problems that are in the House bill, as people start to read through all of that language. And there are especially problems with cost, these huge Medicare savings that the bill - both bills have talked about to pay for the health care reform, those savings have been problematic from the beginning. And over the weekend a report from the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid said that the cuts could mean some hospitals and nursing homes stop taking Medicare, which would mean a reduction in benefits and access for some seniors.

Congress can fix that, of course, but then the cost of the bill goes up. So this comes at the same time that that fight over abortion continues, lots of other contentious matters in this bill. So it seems to be getting harder to pass rather than easier as time goes on, and I don't think that's what most people expected.

INSKEEP: So is the bill dead if it doesn't pass this year?

ROBERTS: Not necessarily, but it gets a whole lot tougher. Christmas is a great deadline. It gets - you know, it concentrates the mind, and it's a good way to pass a bill. Election years are also bad ways to pass bills, and next year, of course, is an election year.

Democrats are getting more nervous about next year, especially after this week. A Gallup poll came out that showed Republicans pulling ahead of Democrats in the so-called generic ballot. That's that question that which party's candidate would you vote for if the election were held today?

The big problem that that poll shows for Democrats is among independent voters, where the Republicans were ahead of Democrats by 22 points. Now, they were only up by one point in the summertime. And those independents just elected Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia, saying that they were worried about government spending. So Democrats know they have to pay a lot of attention there.

INSKEEP: So, you're talking there about the 2010 election, but because Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate on the Republican side, has a book out this week, some people will be talking and thinking about 2012.

ROBERTS: She is out there, and you're getting all kinds of reactions to her and to the book already. The book isn't officially out until tomorrow. She will be on �The Oprah Winfrey Show� today and then out on tour, where thousands of people are expected to show up at her events around the country. She'll be traveling in a bus that has the picture of the book cover on it.

But you're hearing lots of Republicans talking about whether she really is a standard bearer for the party. John McCain's staffers, who she gets even with in the book, are not liking her so much. And conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks yesterday called her a joke.

But Newt Gingrich is reminding people that Ronald Reagan was considered a joke by - in the early days. And there are a lot of people right now, as you well know, Steve, in economic distress. They don't like either party. They don't like politicians. They don't like the media. She gives a voice to all of that. And arguments about whether the book is factual or not don't really matter to people who are mad and like hearing someone saying things that they agree with.

INSKEEP: But you mentioned the Democrats' trouble with independent voters. Doesn't she have the same problem with independent voters?

ROBERTS: Yes, she does, and that's where her negatives are very high. And how she gets to a point where people take her seriously is a huge question, particularly since she's not a governor. She's not in the position to be dealing with substance, and she has to get beyond the base that's excited about her to those independent voters to be a viable candidate. We'll see if she can do that and what the next few days bring out, but it's certainly going to be interesting to watch.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us on most Monday mornings right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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