Democratic Leaders to Rahm Emanuel: Stop the Health Care Deadlines

After about an hour and a half-long meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on health care reform, Congressional Democratic leaders emerged to say the following message was sent to the senior Administration adviser: deadlines are not helpful.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated Tuesday that the President wants the House to pass the Senate bill by March 18, ahead of Obama's trip to Indonesia and Australia, but virtually no deadline has yet been met in more than a year of dealing with health care legislation, and Democratic senators to a letter have fled from those coming from the White House now.

“Congressional Democrats have come to see such markers as more of a problem than a motivator, but the White House hasn’t seemed to digest that,” said one senior Democratic strategist with knowledge of the health care talks.

A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide said, "The message to Rahm was clear and simple: Stop."

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-ND, told reporters, "I've said for years, any talk of deadlines is an absolute waste of time...Deadlines just don't work, because you have so much that is out of your control."

One of the biggest obstacles to meeting deadlines in the entire health care debate has been the unpredictable nature of analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is due to give Congressional Democratic leaders on Wednesday partial, preliminary estimates on pieces of reconciliation legislation.

Already another senior Senate Democratic leadership aide said the analysis could slip to Thursday.

"They have everything for the moment (on reconciliation legislation), but look, it's an iterative process. They come back and give you initial scores, and then you see there's a gap or you see something needs to be addressed, or you see something new needs to go to them," Conrad said of the nonpartisan congressional budget analysts.

And no one knows better how deadlines can slip than Sen. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, who led closed-door, bipartisan compromise talks for weeks last year which yielded no compromise as he was pushed to move to committee consideration of legislation; who produced a bill that got one Republican vote only to see it lost during floor consideration in December, partially because that Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, didn't like what she called "arbitrary deadlines" for completion of the bill.

"We all agreed, all of us in the room agreed we have to move as expeditiously as we can, but there are a lot of hoops, a lot of hurdles, a lot of matters we have to deal with. But we all want to do it together," Baucus told reporters as he left the meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.

"We all want to work as quickly as we can without setting a deadline," Baucus added.

Earlier today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, said, "None of us has mentioned the 18th other than Mr. Gibbs," Hoyer said. "We are trying to do this as soon as possible. That continues to be our objective."

And though there is a considerable trust deficit between House and Senate Democrats on the health care endgame, Baucus said, "There was no bitterness (in the meeting). There was no acrimony."