The message from the Obama White House as it pertained to health care reform was repeated ad-nauseum on Sunday: The president still wants bills out of the Senate and House by the time the two chambers head off to recess. But work needs to be done, specifically on the issue of cost-containment.
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius repeated the hopes that Congress will pass legislation by the August break. When it came to the recent testimony of Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf, that the current drafts of legislation would not effectively lower costs over a ten-year period, she became something of a broken record.
"I think that more will be done," she told host David Gregory.
"This is a work in progress," she said at another point.
"This is an initial scoring if you will," Sebelius added later.
"We don't have the bill even out of the Senate Finance Committee," said the HHS Secretary.
"This is a work in progress," she said
"We know now that more has to be done," she concluded at one point.
Sebelius is right because neither the bill passed through two House committees nor the two bills being considered by separate Senate committees are in their final form. And, as such, the CBO scoring of their cost-saving measures is preliminary and subject to change.
"The good news is the House and Senate are actively working and share the president's goal that overall costs have to come down for everyone so they have an initial report on one of the initial bills that says in the long term, this doesn't bend the cost curve enough," Sebelius said. "The president has a proposal that he hopes will be incorporated, where MedPAC, an independent group of providers, will help to lower the Medicare costs long term. But he's very committed to this and I think it will be part of the package going forward. About 16 of the recommendations are already in the legislation in the House and Senate and we want to include some more."
That said, the administration is walking a political tightrope, one that could trip up the prospects of health care reform. On one hand it has set clear timelines for both chambers of Congress. On the other, it is urging patience with the final legislative product. Moderates in both political parties have already asked the president for more time to craft a reform bill. And on Sunday, at least one of the president's congressional allies admitted that the process was being conducted in haste.
"Sure, we wish we had more time," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of the authors of the House's health care bill, during an appearance on CBS's "Face The Nation." "But the president has given us a deadline and we're working under it."
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