Health Reform Talks Resume; Dems to Bypass Formal Conference

BY Lea Winerman  January 5, 2010 at 2:18 PM EST

Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi

After a holiday break, congressional Democrats are beginning to return to Capitol Hill for a final push to pass health care reform legislation before President Obama’s State of the Union address, likely in early February.

Although Congress isn’t scheduled to convene a formal session until Jan. 19, members and staff are already working to iron out differences between the House version of the bill that passed Nov. 7, and the Senate version that passed Dec. 24.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met Tuesday at 1 p.m. with key House committee chairmen to frame a strategy for the negotiations. Then later in the afternoon, Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., will [meet with President Obama](http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2010/01/obama-has-another-big-meeting-today-health-care/1) at the White House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who are still in their home states, [will phone in](http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31152.html) to the meeting. The full House Democratic caucus will meet at noon on Thursday, though many members who aren’t yet back in Washington will attend via conference call. In order to speed up the bill’s progress, Democrats [intend](http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/01/by_julie_rovner_if_you.html) [to skip](http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Daily-Reports/2010/January/05/Informal-Conference.aspx) a formal conference procedure to reconcile the different versions, according to reports. Instead, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, along with the White House, will hold informal negotiations. This will allow them to circumvent potential Republican procedural maneuvering and attempts to filibuster and slow down the negotiations. But in addition to possibly angering Republicans, the plan for informal, closed-door negotiations has met [resistance](http://www.examiner.com/x-34667-Pima-County-Elections-2010-Examiner~y2010m1d5-Rep-Grijalva-criticizes-healthcare-conference-plans) from some liberal Democrats in the House, including Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, who had hoped to have more of a chance to influence the final shape of the bill. C-SPAN has also [sent a letter](http://www.politico.com/blogs/michaelcalderone/0110/CSPANs_Lamb_to_Congress_Open_health_care_debate.html) to Democratic leadership asking to televise the closed negotiations. The Senate version of the bill is, in general, not as much to the liking of liberals — mainly because it does not include a public insurance option. There are many other differences as well, such as the fact that the Senate bill has somewhat less generous subsidies to help lower and middle-income Americans afford insurance. The bills also finance reform through different taxes — the House bill includes a surtax on the wealthiest Americans, while the Senate bill taxes high-end insurance plans. The NewsHour prepared a [comparison](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/health/july-dec09/billcomparison_12-21.html) of the two versions of the bills; for a much more detailed look, Politico has a link to a [summary](http://www.politico.com/static/PPM136_100104_health_reform_conference.html) prepared by House Democratic staff of the differences between the bills. The Senate will likely have the [upper hand](http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=a0ztONwESF8g) in negotiations, however, as the bill barely received the 60 votes it needed to pass that chamber. And several Senate Democrats have vowed not to vote for a bill that includes a public plan.