With the House Tri-Committee bill poised for a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives after Labor Day and a bill approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee – feats never achieved by the Clinton-era health reform initiatives – President Obama’s goal of signing meaningful health care reform legislation by year’s end appears, at best, tenuous.  

In an interview that aired Sunday, August 23, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) indicated that the President “needed to come back to the drawing board on health reform and consider abandoning the government-run public option.” Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) recently urged the President to postpone many of his health reform initiatives until the economy was stronger. Criticizing various provisions of the current health reform bill, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that Republicans would like to start over “with a genuine bipartisan approach.” Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) concurred. Senator Lugar further suggested that the health reform legislative process should be reset and that, in view of the recession, health care reform should be tabled until at least next year, if not later. Meanwhile, more liberal Democrats in Congress and around the Country threaten to abandon the President over what is viewed as the President’s soft support for a public option and unwillingness to fight for it.  

With all of these divergent opinions percolating from a recessed Congress, Democratic Senators are strategizing about a “go-it-alone” tactic to pass one or more health care reform bills through the budget reconciliation process. This strategy, which has been met with strong opposition by Republicans and reluctance by some Democrats, has its risks and may result in scaled down versions of some of the President’s key health reform initiatives. Still, this approach may become less theoretical if the Senate Finance Committee fails to reach a bipartisan consensus on a health reform bill. Although the bi-partisan group of six Senate Finance Committee members continue to hold talks during the Congressional recess, they have not publicly reported any substantive progress on a health reform bill.  

The President cannot be pleased that, by the end of the third week of the Congressional recess, Congress appears no closer to passing health reform legislation than when the recess began. Arguably, since the beginning of the recess, there has been some retreat in the summer’s slow and steady progress down the path toward health care reform. Still, only time will tell whether the President will deliver on his promise of health care reform. The LLB&L Weekly Health Care Reform Update shall continue to track the progress of the Congressional health reform initiatives, wherever their paths should lead us.