Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday he is "cautiously optimistic" that a health care bill will make it out of the Senate Finance Committee before senators head home for their summer recess. But he accused the media of inflating the importance of an August finish.
"You folks have created the deadline," Reid chided, asserting that President Obama's original goal was simply to pass legislation by the end of the year.
Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was also cagey when asked about the progress of his high-profile committee. "We'll just keep working," he said, "We're ready when we're ready."
At a press conference with family physicians, Sens. Reid, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) discussed the legislation in language liberally laced with medical metaphors.
"America's had a check-up and the prognosis is not very promising," Reid opened.
"You've heard the diagnosis," warned Durbin, "the health care system is chronically ill."
The plan is supported by 450,000 doctors and medical practitioners, said Jim King, a family physician of Selma, Tennessee. "That's enough to fill Wrigley Field 11 times over -- imagine, 11 Wrigley Fields, full of doctors."
Joe Stubbs, president of the American College of Physicians, pressed for a timely resolution: "Debate must not be the excuse for delay." He ended on an emphatic note. "My patients will experience irreparable harm... if we leave it to a future Congress."
Reid seemed to ignore the growing fissures in his own party when he called the Republican leadership in the Senate and the House the only causes of obstruction in passing the legislation. However, he was quick to point to the inclusion of 161 Republican-authored amendments in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) bill and emphasized his admiration for Sens. Snowe (R-Maine), Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) for "hanging in."
Durbin was rather more critical of Republican stalling, and joked: "What you're hearing from the other side is light up, eat up, drink up and live it up -- that's not the way to get well."