House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that Congress could move forward on health care reform “on many fronts,” working to pass smaller parts of the legislation in separate bills while still negotiating a comprehensive reform package.
“Some things we can do on the side that may not fit into the bigger plan,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, citing as an example removing the antitrust exemption for insurers.
She did not give a specific timetable for any of the legislation. But an aide told the Boston Globe that a series of such smaller bills could be unveiled before the mid-February recess.
The speaker also acknowledged that some of the most popular reforms — such as new insurance industry regulations — could only work as part of a larger reform effort.
“You can’t really do the insurance reforms unless you have something else that goes with it — otherwise you have no leverage with the insurance industry,” she said.
Politico has video of the news conference. The comments follow President Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night, in which he urged lawmakers to move forward with health care reform but did not lay out a specific legislative path to do so.
“Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job,” the president said.
But his remarks on health reform came more than half an hour into the speech, a distant second to a new focus on jobs.
Congress has spent the past week debating how to move forward on health care — since a special election for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat deprived them of their filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate.
One option on the table is convincing House Democrats to pass the current Senate bill, with a package of budget-related “fixes” that the Senate could approve through a process called reconciliation that only requires 51 votes.
But that method has proven difficult to sell to rank-and-file members in both the House and Senate.
The House has sent the Senate a package of proposed fixes, including eliminating a tax on high-cost health care plans, that many Senate Democrats say are too expensive at $300 billion.
Pelosi spokesman Brandon Daly disputed that $300 billion figure, telling the Los Angeles Times “there is not set cost.”
And on Thursday, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed in no hurry to finish up the legislation, telling reporters only that it would be done this year.
“This is not a one-year Congress, this is a two-year Congress and we have had a number of extensive meetings of trying to come up with a path forward,” Reid said. “We are going to move forward on health care. We’re going to do health care reform this year.”