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Debate Over Health Care Gets More Intense


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

We begin this hour with the debate over health care. It's getting more intense. President Obama is taking his argument for health care overhaul to the American people this week. It dominated his news conference last night. And today, the president hosted a health care town hall in Cleveland. Back in Washington, though, the fate of an overhaul is as uncertain as ever.

We've asked NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner to come in and help sort all these things out for us. And let's begin, Julie, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He said his chamber definitely will not be voting on health care before it leaves for the August recess. And President Obama now concedes that he won't have that bill on his desk before the break. Is this a surprise?

JULIE ROVNER: Well, hardly a surprise - I would more call it a formal recognition of reality. There's two Senate committees working on this, one of them is finished. But the really important committee in the Senate, the Finance Committee, is and has been huddled behind closed doors for more than a month now trying to hammer out a bipartisan compromise. They say they're making progress, which is probably true or else they wouldn't be still meeting everyday. Senator Reid does say he wants the Finance Committee to finish its work before the August recess - that's two weeks from tomorrow. I believe that part is probably doable.

BRAND: Okay, let's go to the House now. That seemed to be on a faster track in getting its bill voted on, but now not so much?

ROVNER: Not so much. As of now, it's not at all clear what the state of things are in the House. There's three committees there working on a bill, two are done. The third is stuck because there's enough conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrats to block a vote. Now, technically, the House doesn't have to wait for that third committee, and there was apparently a very contentious meeting of House Democratic leaders this morning. Here's how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it at her weekly news conference.

Representative Nancy Pelosi (Democrat, California, Speaker of the House): I've invited the views of members, in terms of some of the issues and the timing as we go forward, and it was pretty exciting. But there was definitely a sentiment in the meeting that members wanted to get this done before the break.

BRAND: Julie, why wouldn't the House want to vote before the break?

ROVNER: Well, there's a calculated risk here. There's a big tax increase in the bill for high income people - House may not want to vote for that if the Senate ends up doing something completely different. On the other hand, if the House doesn't vote, it doesn't look very good from a momentum point of view. That's what the president's been saying about why he set these deadlines in the first place, because the default setting for Congress is inertia. And there's some truth to that.

BRAND: Okay. Well, let's talk about fact-checking and go back to the president's news conference for a moment. Any place there that he overstated his case, Julie?

ROVNER: Well, there's one place in particular where the president's kind of trying to have in both ways. Here's what he said about a health bill and its impact on the deficit.

President BARACK OBAMA: I've also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it.

BRAND: Julie, I've heard that a lot lately. Is it not the case?

ROVNER: Well, I guess it depends on how you define deficit and how define health insurance reform: turns out there's $245 billion in that bill to help avoid a 20 percent cut for doctors on Medicare next year. Now, the administration says that they're calling that already baked in, that that was going to happen anyway, so it shouldn't be counted as part of this whole reform plan. On the other hand, that was really what helped get the American Medical Association's endorsement for the bill. So, if it hadn't been in this bill, the AMA might well not have endorsed it. So, it certainly does add to the deficit according to the congressional budget office. It may not add to the deficit according to the administration, or according to the conservative Blue Dogs, who agreed to let them add it in. So, you get to judge whether you think it adds to the deficit or not. But the president said he's not going to count it.

BRAND: Okay. NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner, thanks.

ROVNER: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie Rovner
Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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