Published July 23, 2009
President Obama on Thursday brushed off the news that Congress was putting the brakes on his health care reform push, saying it's "OK" if lawmakers need additional time to work out complex details of the package.
That was after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said for the first time that the Senate will not vote on the legislation until after the August recess. "It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through," Reid said.
The decision means Congress will not meet Obama's ambitious goal for both chambers to pass out a bill by the summer break.
Though Obama has spent the past week-and-a-half making daily public appeals on the need to pass health care reform soon, he said at a town hall event in Ohio that he has "no problem" with lawmakers taking more time -- so long as they're not delaying for the sake of delay.
"That's OK, I just want people to keep on working, just keep on working," he said. "We can get this done."
Saying he still wants legislation on his desk "by the end of this year, I want it done by the fall," Obama compared the challenge of health care reform to that of landing on the moon more than 40 years ago.
"America doesn't shirk from a challenge," he said.
Despite the delay, Reid said he wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve the bill before the summer break. He would then merge that with the legislation already passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But between now and then, Sen. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has the daunting task of forging a bipartisan package.
The chairman got an earful from fellow Democrats Thursday morning as members vented their concerns about closed-door, bipartisan negotiations he's conducting with those on the other side of the aisle.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., told reporters that Baucus heard heated comments from his colleagues, noting that he had been "shut out of the process."
"I think the chairman was a little surprised by the strength and intensity of feeling," he said.
Baucus told reporters after the meeting that any agreement among negotiators is just "a proposal," saying he would have to show any compromise product to his committee Democrats.
Nelson said that the committee has "a long way to go" before producing a bill.
It's unclear whether the House will be able to move its legislation to the floor by the break, but delays continue in that chamber as well.
The only House committee left to vote on the package postponed a key session Thursday.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee had postponed indefinitely its markup of the health care bill Tuesday as fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats raised concerns about cost and other issues. But while the chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said he wanted to reconvene Thursday afternoon, a senior House source told FOX News that was not going to happen.
At the same time, the chief Democratic vote-counter in the House said that lawmakers in his chamber should cancel or delay their August recess if there's no deal on health care reform by that time.
"It is much better to cancel or postpone our August break and get this done. That's the way I feel," House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Thursday. "I think it will affect our standing with the American people if we don't do this."
While House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said this week he doesn't think it's necessary to work into the recess, Clyburn suggested time is of the essence.
"If everyone goes home, those regional disparities are not going to get worked out. They're going to get worked out here in a conference room in this building," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not say whether the House should stay late, but said lawmakers are having a "strong conversation" about the schedule.
"I don't even know if we would have to stay any longer (than) our regularly scheduled departure," she said.
After saying there's "no question" the bill has enough votes to pass on the House floor, she stood by the remark Thursday and said she's "more confident than ever." But at the same time, she suggested the bill was not quite ready for prime-time.
"We will take the bill to the floor when it is ready, and when it is ready we will have the votes to pass it," she said.
Clyburn said he hasn't started "counting noses" on the House floor, but that he has a "sense" of where the vote would go. He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, the Blue Dogs are starting to draw the ire of their more liberal colleagues.
House Democrats on Thursday fired back at their claims that the bill on the table is too costly.
"We must reject these spurious claims that this is something the country cannot afford," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "We are committed to seeing health care reform pass this month and signed by the president this year."
Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., said the so-called "public option," a government-run alternative to private insurance, is critical and must not be "eroded or negotiated away."
FOX News' Chad Pergram and Trish Turner contributed to this report.