Brief of the Week October 19, 2009

IT’S NOT OVER YET:  Although Democrats and one Republican (Maine’s Olympia Snowe) pushed Chairman Max Baucus’ mammoth health care bill through the Senate Finance Committee last week, there is still much to be done before Congress can pass a final package for President Obama to sign. First, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) must come up with a bill merging the Finance Committee measure with the bill produced last summer by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee. This is in itself a stumbling block, as the HELP bill contains a public option and the Finance Committee bill does not. (Reid has said he personally favors a public option but will forgo it to get some form of health care reform enacted this year). Already working with Reid in his private office out of public view are Obama Administration officials and key Senate Democrats, including: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Baucus, Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.), and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In the House, the task is even harder for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), who must meld three bills produced by three different committees into one piece of legislation. After the House and Senate vote on their respective bills, if the Senate can overcome expected Republican filibusters, a conference committee will have to combine those two bills into one, right down to the commas. The issue of whether there should be a public option remains the Democrats’ biggest dilemma, because many liberals balk at backing any compromise that does not include it, while at least four Senate Democrats are considered reluctant to support a bill with a public option: Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), and Bill Nelson (Fla.).