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Senate Delays Health Reform as Cost Concerns Persist

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that the Senate will not vote on a health care reform bill before its August recess. In a town hall meeting meeting, President Obama said that the delay was "OK," as long as Congress is working to pass a bill by the fall.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Democrats in the U.S. Senate gave up today on an early vote on health care reform. That word came as President Obama took to the road, following his appeal for action at last night's news conference.

    NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has our lead story report.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The announcement by Senate Democrats was not unexpected, but it was a setback for the president's hope for quick passage of health care reform. Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed the full Senate will not vote before the August recess.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Senate majority leader: Working with the Republicans, one of the things that they ask is that they have more time. I've had a number of conversations, for example, with Olympia Snowe.

    And so the decision was made to give them more time for the Finance Committee part of what we're trying to do. And I don't think it's unreasonable. This is a complex, difficult issue. It's better to have a product that is one that's based on quality and thoughtfulness, rather than trying to jam something through.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Reid said he still hopes for a committee vote on a bipartisan bill before the month-long break. It would have to be merged with a Democratic measure that another committee already passed.

    On the House side today, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman met again with fiscally conservative Democrats. They're pressing to rein in costs in the House Democrats' trillion-dollar bill.

    But at a briefing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood by her claim that she has the votes to pass health care reform soon, even though some members of her own party have said otherwise.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., Speaker of the house: I'm more confident than ever. And when we work out some of the differences that we have, it will be very apparent to everyone else that the momentum is there. When the bill is ready, we'll go to the floor, and we will win.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Pelosi again left open the possibility of staying in session for part of the recess.

  • REP. NANCY PELOSI:

    I'm not afraid of August. It's a month. What I am interested in is the sooner the better to pass heath care for the American people.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Even so, another top House Democrat, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, said party leaders were divided on the question of how fast to move.

    Another poll today found rising divisions in public opinion, as well. The Kaiser Foundation survey showed 56 percent of those polled still support health care overhaul, but 21 percent said they and their families would be worse off if it passes. That percentage has doubled since February.

    For his part, President Obama took his health care pitch to a town hall-style meeting in a Cleveland suburb where he addressed the Senate delay.

  • BARACK OBAMA, U.S., President:

    We just heard today that, well, we may not be able to get the bill out of the Senate by the end of August, or the beginning of August. That's OK. I just want people to keep on working. Just keep working.

    I want to get it right, but I also want to get it done promptly. And so as long as I see folks working diligently and consistently, then I am comfortable with moving a process forward that builds as much consensus as possible.

    What I don't want is what I referred to in my speech: delay for the sake of delay, delay because people are worried about making tough decisions or casting tough votes.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The president also toured the Cleveland Clinic and touted it as a model for health care reform.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    Cleveland Clinic has one of the best health information technology systems in the country. And that means they can track patients and their progress. It means that they can see what treatments work and what treatments are unnecessary. And here's the remarkable thing: They actually have some of the lowest costs for the best care.

    That's — that's the interesting thing about our health care system. Often the better care produces lower, not higher, expenses.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Mr. Obama had stressed that idea of controlling costs at his news conference last night. The president also said last night for the first time he'd be willing to consider a surtax on families earning $1 million a year to help pay for the health care overhaul.

    But today, House Republicans kept pushing the idea that the Democrats' plans will cost far too much and won't be paid for. Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia.

  • REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.:

    The president really presented the people with a false choice because, according to what he said last night, there were only two ways: either the status quo or a government health care plan.

    We're here to say that there really is a third way, that we can work together with our Democratic colleagues to try and forge a solution that really reflects the strengths of our system today with trying to address some of the weaknesses.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    A number of Republicans want to scrap the current health care reform proposals. They've called for tax credits and other alternatives, but have not introduced any legislation.