There was churn and noise on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but no discernible progress toward resolution of the health-care fight, as uncertainty prevailed in Washington.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she did not know when House lawmakers would look at a legislative text of President Obama’s proposal, telling The Daily Caller that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was working on a preliminary score of the bill and of a reconciliation package.
“It’s all up to the CBO. We don’t know anything until they tell us,” Pelosi said in a brief interview after meeting with the Democratic Caucus Tuesday night. “It’s really the strangest thing because so much of this is very new, so we thought we’d get it back sooner. But anyway, they do their very careful work and I respect that.”
Pelosi and her leadership team want to present a package deal to House Democrats — President Obama’s proposal and reconciliation fixes both scored by CBO for its impact on the budget.
But House Democrats likely won’t get a look at any language on Wednesday, Pelosi’s office said.
Rep. Charlie Rangel, the New York Democrat who relinquished his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee last week amid scandal over accepting improper gifts, complained that the CBO “doesn’t tell us anything.”
The mood in Washington was, for the second day, one of tense anticipation aggravated by a lack of new information. The conventional wisdom is that Pelosi will somehow find a way to pass a bill, despite a staggering set of political and procedural challenges.
The complexity and intractability of those challenges is what has much of the city’s political class uncertain if Pelosi can pull it off.
A growing public disagreement between the White House and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, however, was a distress signal for Democrats.
Gibbs said last week that the House would need to vote on the Senate bill before the president leaves for a week-long trip to southeast Asia on March 18. Hoyer dismissed that date as Gibbs’s idea alone, and said the “objective” was for the House to vote before they leave for Easter recess on March 26.
“Is it a deadline? No. I want everybody to understand that it’s an objective, not a deadline, and if we can, we can, and if we can’t, we can’t,” Hoyer said.
A seemingly nonplussed Gibbs said later in the day that he “not been given any updated information that leads me to believe that March 18th isn’t a doable date.”
“This was information that I was given based on conversations that people had in this building with Capitol Hill,” Gibbs said. “There seems to be a disconnect.”
Adding to the confusion, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on Sunday refused to back up Gibbs’s talk of a March 18 deadline.
“I have not set a deadline. That’s really up to the leadership of Congress,” Sebelius said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Aides to top House Democrats said they understood the White House talking points as a way to exert pressure on the chamber and play the bad cop, allowing Pelosi and her deputies to be the good cop in rounding up votes. The House aides said so with a roll of the eyes.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Senate Republicans denounced, in the strongest terms, Democrats’ plans to force a bill through using reconciliation, and one Senate Democrat, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, said she opposes the procedure.