The news that healthcare spending is expected to surge in coming years barely registered on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers continued to be at loggerheads over how to revive the now-stalled reform effort, and healthcare legislation threatened to slip further down the agenda.
Jump in healthcare spending not cranking reform engine
Even so, President Barack Obama, in several public appearances, urged Congress to “finish the job” on healthcare, but by late last week his words seemed like a tall order as the Senate said it would move on to other legislation and the House sought to pursue a piecemeal, yet politically tough, approach.
“I don’t think the negotiations are going that well,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said, referring to meetings between House and Senate leaders.
And in yet another sign that key members of the president’s cabinet are backing away from the effort, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, appearing before the pivotal Senate Finance Committee, seemed reluctant to talk about the broader reform initiative. In 11 pages of written testimony and in her opening statement, Sebelius never once referred to overall healthcare reform. In contrast, committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), one of the key architects of the Senate’s overhaul effort, referenced reform 13 times in just over two pages of written testimony and made it the linchpin to many of his questions.
To be sure, the hearing itself was on the HHS budget, but as often is the case on Capitol Hill, congressional panels rarely stay on the stated topic. Sebelius, in an answer to the senior Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, conceded that her department has played a less visible role. “I have conversations on a regular basis with Republicans and Democrats, but I don’t convene the House and Senate and I’m not a principal in the negotiations nor are my staff,” she said.
Meanwhile, the House’s top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi of California, said she would move forward with legislation aimed at repealing the special exemption from antitrust laws that insurance companies now enjoy.
More so, however, it’s a clear signal that the House plans to move ahead with smaller health legislation, pulling out measures from the broader bill that likely wouldn’t survive procedural maneuvers now being discussed.
Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said he remained optimistic about reform’s chances, adding that several other pieces of legislation have been revived after being pronounced dead. Some of those strained efforts included a telecommunications bill in the early 1990s, a crime bill in 1994, and legislation, which ultimately failed, that would have defined certain patients’ rights.
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