By Jeffrey Young - 07/10/09 07:10 AM EDT
“I am committed to doing this all month of July and the first of August,” before the Senate departs for the recess, Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (D-Nev.) said, even as senators struggled to agree on tax increases to finance the bill.
But Waxman and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both griped about the cost estimates they were receiving from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
The White House also indicated that healthcare reform is on track. “From our perspective, what we see is constructive progress toward what we understand is something that's very complicated,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
This optimism stood in sharp contrast to the considerable challenges they face in meeting the promise made by President Obama and congressional leaders that the $1 trillion-plus healthcare reform legislation will not add to the budget deficit over the next 10 years.
Senate Finance Committee members entered their second day of meetings aimed at identifying ways to raise more than $300 billion in tax revenue that would not include a tax on workplace health benefits. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusWyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny The chaotic fight for ObamaCare MORE (D-Mont.), has favored that proposal all year, but as opposition from rank-and-file Democrats mounted, Reid this week sent Baucus back to the drawing board.
Democratic and Republican Finance Committee members emerged from one meeting with widely different views on what taxes — if any — to raise and no comments about when they would come to terms.
Baucus said senators were “a lot closer than we’ve been” but acknowledged, “I know I’ve been saying that constantly” as a bipartisan deal on the entire reform package continues to elude him.
Senators are looking at taxes that range from an upper-income “surtax” to hikes in Medicare payroll taxes to new levies on sugary drinks and alcohol.
“The meeting is encouraging because there are lots of alternatives,” said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSchumer touts policy victories over Obama administration Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding MORE (D-N.Y.), who expressed serious reservations about taxing health benefits.
Sen. John KerryJohn KerryAn all-female ticket? Not in 2016 GOP senator calls for China to crack down on illegal opioid Obamas to live in home of former Clinton press secretary: report MORE (D-Mass.) said even though everything’s on the table, not everything is being taken seriously. “You’ve got to look at all the options. Some just aren’t real,” he said, declining to be more specific.
But the sheer length of what Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) called a “laundry list of ways to raise money” presented challenges to committee members.
Republicans, meanwhile, have not even agreed to the concept of raising taxes, said Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTen senators ask FCC to delay box plan An affordable housing solution both parties can get behind Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (R-Utah.). “There are a whole bunch of revenue options that they’ve listed. There are no good options as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“Our side has tremendous angst, and I personally have lots of angst, on the so-called tax increases that they want to talk about,” said Hatch, who suggested the entire healthcare reform process ought to be rethought.
The House is focused on taxes targeting higher-income workers and will not tax health benefits, Pelosi asserted. But Pelosi and Waxman indicated they were having problems of their own finding ways to pay for healthcare reform.
“That's part of what we are waiting for — the pay-fors and then the CBO scoring after that as to what the bill will cost,” Pelosi said.