Although health care reform bills were approved by a House and a Senate committee recently, the outlook remains uncertain in other committees with jurisdiction. For example, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200) encountered a significant roadblock when conservative Democrats (known as “Blue Dogs”) on the House Energy and Commerce Committee raised objections over the cost of the legislation.
The Blue Dogs’ concerns came on the heels of the announcement by the Congressional Budget Office that the House bill would add $239 billion dollars to the federal deficit over the next 10 years. As a result, House Democratic Leaders and the Blue Dogs huddled for the past week, and only yesterday, July 29, reached a compromise.
The compromise would weaken the public plan option, ensure fewer small businesses were covered by the bill’s employer mandate provision, and strengthens a number of cost-saving provisions in the bill.
As we go to press, however, liberal members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee were raising objections to this compromise, which could again postpone committee action on the bill. The House Leadership has already conceded that the full House will not consider health care reform until September, after Congress returns from its month-long August recess.
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee finally finished work on its version of health care reform legislation, voting 13-10 along party lines to advance the bill on July 15, 2009.
However, the Senate Finance Committee (which shares jurisdiction over health care with the HELP Committee and is largely viewed as the best chance for bipartisanship on this complex issue) has yet to circulate a bill. Press reports suggest the committee is close to a deal and committee work could begin as early as next week). Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has indicated that the price tag for his committee’s bill would be about $900 billion and would provide coverage to 95 percent of Americans. If that holds true, the Senate Finance approach would be the least expensive proposal to date, providing additional momentum to the health care reform debate - especially if two or more Republicans are willing to support it.
SHRM is monitoring developments and plans to provide readers with a status report of where the debate stands once Congress recesses for its summer break.