Health care reform has dominated the American political scene for the past few months. The original White House-imposed deadline (the August recess) for bills to be passed by both the House and Senate is rapidly approaching. Tonight, President Obama will hold a press conference in which he's expected to reinforce the importance of passing health care reform as soon as possible.
Here's where we stand:
In the Senate:
There are two committees in the Senate that have jurisdiction over health care reform, the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. These committees have been running on parallel but separate tracks--each has been writing its own bill (focusing on the specific areas over which it has jurisdiction, but there's significant overlap) which will have to be merged later on. The HELP Committee introduced its comprehensive health care reform bill back in June and passed it out of the committee on July 15. This was a huge step towards successfully passing health care reform. In the end, no Republicans voted for the bill. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) managed the legislative process in the absence of Chairman Ted Kennedy, who has been receiving treatment for brain cancer through most of the process.
The Senate Finance Committee, on the other hand, has been pursuing a very deliberate and less formal process to try and ensure that they have a bill that (1) has bipartisan support and (2) controls costs (the Finance Committee is ultimately responsible for finding the money to pay for most of health care reform). Despite releasing its first "white paper" on health care reform shortly after the elections last November, the Finance Committee has yet to introduce a bill. Private discussions among committee members are ongoing, though progress seems to come in fits and starts. Because there is no bill yet, however, there's no doubt that the Finance Committee is an area of special concern to the White House and other health reform advocates.
A 60 vote supermajority will be needed to overcome an inevitable filibuster against health care reform. There are 60 Democrats in the Senate (and a few potential GOP cross-overs), but every vote will be needed and there's no margin for error ... potential Democratic hold-outs hold significant power.
In the House of Representatives:
Rather than pursuing separate, parallel tracks like the committees of jurisdiction in the Senate, the House committees with health care reform oversight (there are three) worked together to introduce a single bill. That bill was then divvied up among the three committees so they could "mark up" (amend) the particular provisions over which they have jurisdiction. Two of the three committees have since passed the bill.