The legislative overhaul of the nation's health-care system stands closer to enactment than any similar effort in nearly 100 years. But before Democrats can claim victory, major policy gaps must be bridged. To that end, Democratic leaders have begun a final round of health-care talks, pledging to overcome their remaining differences. They want to send a bill to the President before he presents his state of the Union address.
The House's version of the bill would create a federally funded insurance option, while the Senate's would not; and the House would create a national insurance exchange, while the Senate would take a state-by-state approach to such a marketplace. The public insurance option remains a top priority for liberals; despite the fact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been unable to secure the 60 votes needed to support such a plan.
Tuesday evening President Obama and Democratic leaders agreed on a fast-track alternative to the traditional House-Senate conference committee. The informal approach would still require the House and Senate to pass identical bills but would minimize the opportunity for Senate Republicans to slow the process. Under the plan, the House would pass the Senate bill amended with new compromise provisions, and then send the package back to the Senate for one final vote.