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White House Softens on Health Care Timeline

White House officials on Sunday appeared to soften their demand that the House and Senate pass health care bills by the August recess as they deflected criticism that the measures fail to control costs.Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union— whether the timeline for passage would be met, Peter Orszag, White House budget director said: “It’s still the goal. We think we can make that.—President Barack Obama has repeatedly said he wants the House and Senate to clear health care packages before they go home for the monthlong recess. But intraparty squabbling and Republican opposition have put meeting that deadline in jeopardy.Orszag, who also appeared on “Fox News Sunday,— defended Democratic health care plans against the assertions by his successor at the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, who said last week they would increase federal health care costs, not curb them. Orszag said the bills include more than $500 billion in cost savings within the health care system.And Orszag asserted that the House health care bill would pay for itself, even though the CBO said it would add $239 billion to the deficit over a decade.Orszag argued that the bill includes $245 billion to avoid a scheduled 21 percent cut to doctor pay, which he dismissed as “already baked into the cake.— And he said the White House wants to add to the legislation an independent board of doctors with the power to alter reimbursement that he said would also control costs in the long run.Orszag declined to endorse the tax increases in the House health care bill, including a surtax on the wealthy, but dismissed them as affecting “a very small proportion of the population, one or two percent.— Orszag said Obama has better ideas for paying for the plan, including limiting itemized deductions for the wealthy, but he remains opposed to taxing health benefits, which some Republicans and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) support.Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius, who appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,— said the president doesn’t prefer that option because it could undermine employer-provided insurance.House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) criticized the CBO for failing to score money-saving preventive measures and for being tardy in its criticism.“I’m surprised the Congressional Budget Office had these views and didn’t share them with the Ways and Means Committee before we finished our work,— Rangel said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.—Rangel also asserted that the House, at least, would meet Obama’s goal of passing a bill before the August break. The House is scheduled to adjourn on July 31, while the Senate is set to leave town on Aug. 7.“Sure, we wish we had more time.— he said. “We have a deadline, we will meet it.—But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Obama is rushing the process and leaving Republicans behind.“He knows he can’t sell it if the debate lasts very long because it’s so expensive and costly,— Hatch said.Rangel said the bill wasn’t bipartisan because Republicans haven’t offered an alternative.“Is there a Republican bill in the Senate? There certainly isn’t in the House,— he said.Hatch said Republicans have offered a number of bills that would reform the system, but Democrats have ignored them.Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ripped the Democratic plans as raising costs and taxes while still failing to cover millions of Americans. He said it was another example of the Democrats “rush-and-spend— politics.Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the ranking member of the Budget Committee, touted his plan on “Fox News Sunday,— which he said would cover everyone without nationalizing health care. Gregg’s proposal includes taxing health benefits and mandating that individuals who can afford to buy insurance do so, but it would not set up a government-run plan to compete with private insurers.Gregg said that he shares Obama’s goals of providing universal coverage and cutting costs but that politics are getting in the way.“We’ve all sort of locked into our positions. It’s unfortunate,— said Gregg, Obama’s one-time pick for Commerce secretary.Gregg also noted that Obama has yet to put his own blueprint on the table.“The irony … is the president doesn’t have a plan,— Gregg said, and he is instead deferring to Congressional Democrats to write the bill.