Reid: Senate not bound by Obama’s health deadline

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In a blow to President Obama’s top legislative priority, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that Congress may not meet Mr. Obama’s goal of passing major health care reform by the end of the year, even as House Democrats made the final amendments to prepare their version of the bill for a floor vote next week.

Asked if lawmakers were on track to have a bill on Mr. Obama’s desk this year, Mr. Reid told reporters, “We’re not going to be bound by any timelines.”

Late Tuesday evening, House Democrats announced 42 pages of amendments to the 1,990-page bill they introduced last week, including new checks to make sure illegal immigrants don’t get health coverage and the creation of five new offices to monitor the health of minorities.

Democrats said the completion of the “manager’s amendment” starts the legislative clock, giving lawmakers 72 hours to digest the bill before putting it on the floor for debate and a vote.

The Senate’s short November calendar, with breaks for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, will make it difficult to schedule a final vote before the Christmas break. But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, one of the key drafters of the legislation, told reporters Tuesday he still thinks the deadline is possible.

Mr. Reid’s warning came on a day when House Republicans prepared to release their own alternative health care legislation, a more modest blueprint that its drafters say is purposely limited in scope to fix only what is broken in the current system.

The Republicans’ plans include allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines; permitting groups of people or businesses to pool insurance purchases; requiring states to subsidize high-risk-insurance pools; and limiting medical malpractice awards. They plan to release the bill later this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

Democrats had been chastising Republicans for months over their failure to produce their own health proposal. In talking about their blueprint, GOP leaders took a shot at the Democrats’ much more ambitious effort Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “1,990-page government takeover of health care raises the cost of insurance for America’s families, and it will add to our already exploding debt,” Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said. “There’s a better way.”

The House is expected to move quickly. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Tuesday the final bill would include a compromise designed to address concerns from pro-life Democrats about how health care reforms will affect federal abortion policy.

Mr. Hoyer has told members to be prepared to stay in town on Saturday, if necessary.

House Republicans hope to release their bill as an alternative to the Democrats’ plan, which they argue would give government too large a role in health care decisions, increase the deficit, allow taxpayer-funded abortions and allow illegal immigrants access to tax subsidies.

The GOP plan is expected to cost “far” under the $900 billion limit Mr. Obama set in his joint session of Congress, according to a Republican lawmaker. Democrats dismissed the Republican plan, arguing that it doesn’t do enough to cover the uninsured, protect consumers or prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing health problems.

“The balance of their bill, as far as we are concerned, does little to provide security and stability for all Americans,” Mr. Hoyer said.

The Republican plan does not include tax increases or the creation of a government-created “public” insurance plan — two of their chief complaints about the Democratic plans. It would ban any federal funds from going toward abortions, making the so-called Hyde Amendment, which has to be renewed every year, permanent.

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