Senate Democratic Insiders Say No Healthcare Bill Until December

The public option is still a big sticking point between Senate and House agreement.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

A number of healthcare industry officials who are lobbying the Senate Finance Committee and aides to top Senate Democrats expect negotiations and debate over a final healthcare reform bill to stretch well into December, perhaps even as late as Christmas. And while some industry types are not sure if a bill will even emerge, Senate Democratic aides today suggested that if debate continues for that long, there will be no alternative but to push forward with a Democratic-only package for President Obama to sign. "I think we'll get something done. It's gotten too big to fail," says a key Democratic aide. "The Democrats feel a need to get something passed because they made a commitment to do it, and they feel like they need to make good on that commitment."

The aide adds, "The problem is the emerging fight between the standing Senate version and what the House is saying they will stand for, and the public option is the big sticking point in that debate."

Meanwhile, Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said that the industry doesn't expect a completed package before the end of December—and she isn't hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats in supporting it. Ignagni, briefing reporters this morning, added that the process should have been further along by now. Lawmakers wasted August, she said, allowing extremists to raise the rhetorical debate to the heated levels that doomed the Clinton plan in 1993-1994. "August was a lost opportunity," she said, contending that supporters should have been promoting the areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans rather than allowing the smaller number of disagreements to bog down the debate.

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