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Democratic Leaders Wary of Health Bill Deadlines

Democratic Congressional leaders emerged from a Tuesday night huddle with White House officials cautious about their ability to meet a March 26 target for passing a health care overhaul.

“Deadlines are both a blessing and a curse,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) when asked if Members told White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that deadlines were not helpful. “They’re a blessing because they get you focused on making a decision but they’re a curse when you can’t reach them. That’s happened over and over again, so people, they’ve have learned the hard way.”

One source said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who hosted the meeting in her offices, told Emanuel that deadlines are not helpful. Afterward, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) indicated that the president’s goal of House passage by March 18 may be difficult to meet because of the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring process and need to vet the bill with parliamentarians in both chambers.

“I’ve said for years any talk of deadlines is an absolute waste of time because some things are out of your hands,” Conrad told reporters after the meeting. “I can’t tell you — nobody can tell you — when will CBO put out full scores, not just partial scores, full scores. Nobody can tell you when the Parliamentarian will reach a final decision.”

But Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said House and Senate leaders are moving “as expeditiously as possible.”

Pelosi likewise signaled optimism. “These meetings now take us more quickly down the road of making good progress. And when we get some final figures from the Congressional Budget Office, we’ll make more progress,” she said.

Pelosi said Democratic leaders are “well beyond” talk of how Senate Democrats can reassure their House colleagues they will actually act on a package of fixes if the House adopts the Senate-passed reform measure. “We are way far down the road,” she said. “It’s not a question of confidence. It’s a question now of making sure those numbers are what we expect them to be.”

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