Health care reform is still hitting potholes in the Senate.
The only bipartisan effort, being hammered out in the Finance Committee, is still stuck in a rut as members try to come up with about $320 billion in revenue to pay for the massive reforms.
Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, who has been working for months on a bipartisan overhaul, was clearly frustrated Thursday, telling reporters, "The President is not helping us," as Obama opposes one major way of bringing in the money: taxing employer-provided health benefits.
Normally these benefits are excluded from taxation, but Baucus is finding it difficult to continue this exclusion as he searches for revenue. "Is tax exclusion off the table? No," Baucus said, emphatically bucking the President.
Further, Obama said in recent days that he favors finding revenue by capping the deductions wealthier Americans, like himself, take on things like charitable contributions. Baucus scoffed, saying, "It's on the table, but there's very little interest in that."
Meanwhile, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan office that calculates the cost of bills, warned Congressional Democrats that their plans, thus far, would raise costs, not lower them. Director Doug Elmendorf was asked by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-ND, if costs would be lowered, also known as "bending the cost curve," to which the director responded, "The curve is being raised."
Asked what would slow the growth of health care costs, Elmendorf endorsed taxing health benefits as a way of paying for reform.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, was clearly frustrated with Elmendorf, who in recent months has unwittingly set back health care efforts with his unflattering analyses of their cost effects, when asked about the director's comments, bluntly suggested, "What he should do is run for Congress."
The leader reiterated that he expects to have the Senate pass a health care reform bill by the second week fo August, a timeline many Democrats and Republicans have questioned but one the White House clearly is pushing.
Chairman Baucus said he still hopes to have a bill unveiled by the close of business today.