WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats edged away Wednesday from their goal of passing ambitious health care legislation by early August amid heightening partisan controversy over tax increases and a proposed new government role in providing insurance to consumers.
"I think the ultimate goal is to have a bill by the end of this year" that is signed into law by President Barack Obama, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. He said Democrats would make "every effort to stick to the timetable" that included initial Senate action by August.
Separately, Republicans who met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expressed flexibility on the timetable, indicating he was willing to allow more time before legislation is brought to the floor.
The evident slippage coincided with an announcement that the nation's hospitals agreed to give up $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments over the next decade, money than can help defray the cost of the legislation the administration wants.
"Folks, reform is coming. It is on track," Vice President Joe Biden said at the White House, and he urged the Senate to enact legislation by the now-imperiled August goal.
Any failure to meet the goal would be a setback — but not necessarily a fatal one — for Obama's attempt to win legislation this year that both slows the growth in health care costs and extends coverage to nearly 50 million Americans who now lack it.