The New York Times: "With a growing sense of urgency, President Obama and top Congressional Democrats held a marathon negotiating session on Wednesday in an effort to thrash out agreements on sweeping health care legislation that could provide insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans." Those in attendance included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and committee chairmen who have worked on the legislation.
President Obama reportedly left the meeting to talk to foreign leaders about Haiti, but was otherwise focused on the health bills and "tried to guide" the discussions toward compromise. And, in a joint statement released that evening, "Mr. Obama, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid said they had made 'significant progress in bridging the remaining gaps' between the House and Senate bills" (Pear and Stolberg, 1/13).
Politico: The day-long session, which in fact is a "de facto" conference committee, "signaled that House and Senate leaders — with the president in the room for much of the day — were far closer to resolution on the issues that have divided the two chambers for months." Democratic leaders " have been heavily criticized by Republicans for circumventing the normal conference committee process, even though much of the work under that structure also takes place behind closed doors. Those involved in the talks sought to keep details of their progress under wraps" (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 1/13).
The Washington Post: An aide to Reid said "the goal is to submit a compromise package to congressional budget analysts for a final cost estimate by early next week. The discussions are expected to resume Thursday." Democrats said "calculating the dollar amount" for the bill is likely to take another week to complete and that a final bill isn't expected to be on Obama's desk until early February, complicating "the president's goal of touting a health-care deal in his State of the Union speech."
Both the House- and Senate-passed versions "would provide insurance to people who lack access to affordable coverage by dramatically expanding Medicaid and creating a government-run marketplace in which people could shop for private coverage subsidized by the government. Big differences on difficult issues remain..." (Montgomery, 1/14).
The Wall Street Journal: "Lawmakers tried to resolve conflicts over how to pay for the bill, how to structure a new requirement that employers offer insurance, and how to expand the insurance subsidies in the bill to make them more generous for lower earners, according to Democratic aides. The talks moved closer to the House position calling for a national health-insurance exchange, rather than state-run exchanges. No final decisions were reached, aides said" (Adamy, 1/14).
The Hill: "Though there are numerous issues to be resolved, the chief difficulty appears to be coming to a compromise on the excise tax [on high-cost health plans, also known as the "Cadillac" tax], which is strongly opposed by organized labor. Underscoring the importance of securing union support for the final bill, White House officials staged a separate meeting Wednesday with the leaders of major unions at the same time congressional leaders sat down with Obama." Meanwhile, Democrats from the party's liberal wing "continued to protest the legislation's lurch toward the political center (Young and Allen, 1/13).
The Associated Press: "Union officials familiar with the negotiations said the White House would like a deal on the high-cost insurance plan tax by Friday." In the meantime, Obama will address rank-and-file House Democrats Thursday to ask them to "yield on key issues still standing in the way of a historic legislative achievement" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 1/14).
BusinessWeek: "How to pay for the bill, which may cost $1 trillion over a decade, looms as the biggest stumbling block" (Rowley and Runningen, 1/14).