Senators are planning to get to work this week on turning ideas into legislation to cover some 50 million people without health insurance and contain costs for everyone else. Hopes are high that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground for a bill to emerge by summer.
"This is the toughest issue we have ever taken onevery part has got a chance of blowing up," said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley said work on the issue starts Tuesday.
Grassley is reasonably confident that he and chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) can produce a bill that appeals to the middle. "Our only hope is if we do it in a way that keeps the vast majority of both parties going in the same direction," Grassley said.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sees opportunity. "There is a very appealing philosophical truce within the Senate's grasp," he said.
"Democrats are right on the idea that we've got to cover everybody. Republicans have been right on the role of the private sector, not freezing innovation and staying away from price controls," Wyden said. "You meld those philosophical views and you are on your way to 68 to 70 votes."
Lawmakers are far apart on some of the most important issues today, from the reach of government to the responsibilities of employers and individuals. And guaranteeing coverage for all could cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years, an eye-popping sum in a time of recession and mounting national debt.