Health care slips another day, raising Democratic anxiety

Jon Ward Contributor
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Democrats’ inability to release a bill to the public for review on Wednesday raised serious questions about whether they will be able to move the bill to the House floor in time for a vote before President Obama leaves Sunday for a week-long international trip.

House Democratic leaders emerged from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office obviously frustrated that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had yet to release a report describing the impact of the president’s health-care bill on the budget.

Several leaders told The Daily Caller that the CBO report and the bill itself would be released Thursday. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it would come out “sometime” on Thursday.

Once the CBO releases its score, the House can release the bill publicly and start the 72-hour countdown to a vote. But every hour that goes by Thursday will further risk delaying the president’s departure, which he has already pushed back three days to try to force the House to act.

Pelosi’s office has been talking about a CBO report as imminent since last Friday, and stopped speculating Tuesday on when the score would finally appear. On Wednesday morning, Democratic aides told reporters a bill would be released later in the day, only to watch yet another deadline come and go without a legislative text.

Rep. John Larson, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said he had “no idea” what the hold-up was.

“From your lips to God’s ears, we wish it was here yesterday,” Larson said in an interview after leaving Pelosi’s office.

“I honestly don’t know what the issue is, why they can’t produce a document that they said they were going to be able to produce,” he said. “But I have at least a little concern, empathy for them. It’s a big bill, it’s important to get everything right.”

Van Hollen was more forbearing.

“CBO is doing its work as fast as they can. So I know they’ve been working very hard. I’ve got to salute them,” he said.

Democrats have been working with the CBO to try to design a bill that reduces the federal deficit by at least $120 billion over the first 10 years. Under the rules of reconciliation — the process Democrats must use to fix the original Senate bill — they are required to reduce the deficit by $2 billion more than the Senate bill.

CBO judged last week that the original Senate bill would reduce the deficit by $118 billion in its first 10 years, down from the $132 billion they originally estimated.

Obama is currently set to leave Sunday around midday for a trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia. His signature on any bill passed by the House is required in order to keep the process moving forward in the Senate, where House Democrats are insistent that the upper chamber pass several fixes to the legislation they passed in December.

If a vote is not held in time for a passed bill to go to the president for his signature, the entire process could unravel. House lawmakers might feel less urgency to vote given the absence of a looming deadline, and the support that Pelosi and her deputies have worked so hard in recent days to corral might crumble.

“We just certainly hope that we don’t have to deal with that probability. I feel very confident we’ll have it done by Sunday or before,” Larson said.

Obama himself said he was “confident it will pass.”

“The reason I’m confident that it’s going to pass is because it’s the right thing to do,” Obama said, at the end of a contentious 20-minute interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier.

CBO negotiation isn’t the only thing in the way of Democrats passing a bill. Their ability to garner the requisite 216 votes is still very much in question.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday he would have the votes by the weekend.

“I think so,” he said. “I’m closer than I was yesterday. And I’ll be closer tomorrow than I am today.”