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Charting Course Of Health Care Legislation

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today in the Senate, the process of merging bills is just getting started.

NPR's Julie Rovner spent the afternoon up on Capitol Hill. And she joins us in the studio now with a merge progress report. Hiya.

JULIE ROVNER: Hiya.

SIEGEL: Seems the Republicans - it seems early to be talking about progress, but I gather there is a little bit.

ROVNER: There's a little bit of news. It seems that Republicans in the Senate, despite their modest numbers and the loss of Olympia Snowe of Maine who voted for the Finance bill, at least in committee yesterday, are coming out swinging. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said after the weekly party lunches that Republicans will make sure that when this bill does get to the floor of the Senate, that it'd be debated for at least several weeks. Here's how he put it.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): The American people expect us to insist that we spend an adequate amount of time to explore all parts of this highly complex effort to reorganize one-sixth of our economy. And Senate Republicans are committed to making sure that that's a procedure that is followed.

SIEGEL: Is that capitolese for a filibuster, Julie?

ROVNER: Well, you need 40 votes to sustain a filibuster in the Senate and without Senator Snowe, they don't have 40 votes - they only have 39. But Republicans will try to make the case, as Senator McConnell said, that a bill as big as this deserves at least as much time on the floor being debated as an education bill like No Child Left Behind, which got seven weeks of debate, or last year's foreign bill, which was on the floor for a month.

SIEGEL: How are Democrats responding to that not-so-veiled threat?

ROVNER: Well, about like you would expect. You know, this bill has missed a lot of deadlines and while I don't think Democrats intend to have it on and off the Senate floor in just a few days, I think Democrats don't want the schedule dictated by the minority. Here's how Senate Majority leader Harry Reid responded when reporters asked him about Senator McConnell's comments.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I believe that the Republican leader and all his colleagues with the exception of a couple there, one of whom is Senator Snowe and there are a couple others, want to do anything that they can do not to have a bill. Remember, one Republican senator said he wants the health care bill to be President Obama's Waterloo, meaning his defeat.

ROVNER: That Republican Senator, by the way, was South Carolina's Jim DeMint.

SIEGEL: Yeah, this, though, is a challenge to Leader Reid to keep his party of the Democrats together to get a bill through the Senate. It sounds like it's going to take more than just implying, you know, criticizing Republicans.

ROVNER: That's right. Democrats are finding what Republicans found when they were in charge: the bigger your majority is the more diverse your coalition. So, there are liberals who are basically insisting that this bill include a government-run public plan as one option for people to choose. That's not in the Finance Committee bill, by the way, but it is in the Health Committee bill, the other Senate committee.

Then you've got more moderate members who are insisting that they won't vote for a bill that has a public option in it. Democrats thought for about a nanosecond that they'd found a compromise with these member-run co-ops, which are in the finance bill, but the Congressional Budget Office said that probably won't have much impact because not very many of those co-ops would even be created. So, that's a really big fight in these merger negotiations and whichever way it comes out is going to alienate a big block of those Democrats.

SIEGEL: Julie, when do you expect these negotiations to be complete in the Senate?

ROVNER: Well, of course, they had hoped to get the bill on the floor this week. That hasn't happened. And I think that no matter what happens in these negotiations, it's going to take longer than they had expected. That's been the rule with this bill. So, I think we've got at least a couple of weeks to go.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Julie.

ROVNER: You're very welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Julie Rovner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julie Rovner
Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.