WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama started work in earnest Tuesday on difficult issues still standing in the way of their national health care overhaul after months of tortuous debate. Topping the list: how to help Americans pay for insurance premiums.
Republicans weren't invited, and they complained that the Democrats intended to deliberate behind closed doors — though lawmakers often do so in the final stages of such complex legislation. Separately, the head of C-SPAN, the nonpartisan public affairs network, called for letting the sun shine in on the discussions — as Obama once had promised.
House Democrats face the virtual certainty that they will not get the government-run insurance plan liberals had sought, a point Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged.
"There are other ways to do that, and we look forward to having those discussions," she told reporters.
The president wants to sign sweeping legislation to extend insurance coverage by the time of his State of the Union speech, expected in early February. Separate bills passed by the House and Senate would require nearly all Americans to get coverage and would provide subsidies for many who can't afford the cost — but they differ on hundreds of details. Pressure to get a final bill means Democratic congressional leaders are likely to bypass formal negotiations as they reach for a deal.
In exchange for losing the government option, House Democrats say they intend to press the Senate to make premiums more affordable for Americans.
The House bill would provide $602 billion in subsidies from 2013-2019, covering an additional 36 million people.
The Senate bill would start the aid a year later, providing $436 billion in subsidies from 2014-2019 and reducing the number of uninsured by 31 million.
The House would provide much greater financial help for households making as much as three times the federal poverty level, $32,490 for an individual, $66,150 for a family of four, according to a side-by-side analysis prepared by House Democratic staffers.
The Senate bill would provide greater assistance for households one rung up the income ladder, making between three and four times the federal poverty level, or up to $43,320 for an individual and $88,200 for a family of four.