Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress on Wednesday night a “game changer— and predicted Congress would complete a comprehensive health care reform bill before Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Finance Committee members began exploring the possibility of adding provisions to curb medical malpractice lawsuits, as well as how to ensure illegal immigrants do not benefit from health care programs and how to prevent any federal money from being used to fund abortions.
Reid acknowledged that several obstacles remain to the Senate health care bill — particularly whether the measure will emerge with the president’s preferred public insurance option or the Finance group’s proposal to create a network of nonprofit health insurance cooperatives.
Noting that he favors the public option, Reid said he would leave it up to the entire Senate to decide on the issue when the measure reaches the full Senate, possibly by the end of September. “The ultimate decision will be made on the Senate floor,— he said. “We will have votes on different variations of the public option.—
Reid also expressed confidence that wavering centrists in his caucus would not try to block the chamber from passing a bill this year.
“We’re going to be fine with the moderates,— Reid said. “I’ve had a number of conversations with the moderates, and remember what we’re talking about here is procedural votes.—
He said believed the Senate could “beat— Vice President Joseph Biden’s suggestion that Congress complete health care before Thanksgiving. “I hope we can get it done well before Thanksgiving,— Reid said.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said the six negotiators were working through a number of issues in their race to reach a bipartisan agreement before he unveils his chairman’s mark by Tuesday and marks up a bill the week of Sept. 21.
Baucus said the president’s speech gave a boost to the negotiations because Obama appeared to embrace so many aspects of the framework Baucus floated over the weekend.
“It’s uncannily similar to what we’re working on,— he told reporters after a morning meeting of the group. “We’re very close to being in sync here. That’s confidence-building. —
Baucus said the group was primarily focused on settling differences over how to structure changes to Medicaid in a way that would not adversely affect states.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said that because Obama told Members on Wednesday night that he is open to curbing malpractice lawsuits, the group was considering the addition of medical malpractice reforms to the measure even though the Senate Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction over that issue.
“The president’s speech last night was very helpful on medical malpractice reform,— Conrad told reporters. “As you know, we are not the committee of jurisdiction, but there’s no reason we can’t put a suggestion forward, and that’s what we’re going to be meeting on later today or perhaps tomorrow.—
Conrad said staff is expected to come up with proposals on malpractice reform, abortion and illegal immigrants before the group meets again later Thursday or Friday.