Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed the House health care position forward on Tuesday night, insisting that a national health insurance exchange is "essential" and that a surtax on the wealthy is still "the best pay-for" that either bill includes.
The Senate bill includes state-based exchanges, whereas the House creates a national exchange, arguing that only a national exchange can create the kind of competition needed and allow for serious regulatory oversight. "It is essential to having a workable plan," Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. [Update: Pelosi's full quote: "It is essential to having a workable plan is to have an exchange that meets certain workable standards. How that is defined we shall see." That leaves room for the national exchange to be rejected and the "we shall see" doesn't exhibit full confidence, to say the least.]
The Associated Press is reporting that Obama is siding with the House against conservative Democrats in the Senate.
How to pay for the health care expansion is perhaps the most contentious issue remaining. Pelosi point to President Obama, who campaigned against a tax on "Cadillac" insurance plans, when asked about the excise tax. "The president wants to have a Cadillac tax," she said, but added that she was not giving up on a surtax on the rich.
"I think it's the best pay-for that we have so far," she said. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the 5.4 percent surtax on income over $1 million for joint filers would raise more than $450 billion over 10 years.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said that he and other Democrats would press the president when he meets with the caucus on Thursday. Will he be able to sway him?
"I hope so," said Rangel. "That's stretching the word hope." The president, he said, can be very persuasive.
The president's position is strengthened because few House Democrats want to be the vote that takes down the health care bill, no matter how weak it may be. "Never has 218 been so important to me," said Rangel, referring to the number of votes needed to pass the bill.
"We've got a problem on both sides of the Capitol - a big problem," said Rangel. Following a quorum call Monday night, the caucus planned to meet behind closed doors to hash out strategy going forward.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), an assistant to the Speaker and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that the two chambers were still working out their differences and had yet to dig in.
"Nobody has been drawing lines in the sand," he said. "They're clearly advancing their respective positions."