Well, it's early Friday morning. By now, I had been hoping to be well into reading the House of Representatives' reform bill, which the leadership was all set to unveil. After a pretty rough few days, in which the Senate suddenly realized it had nothing approaching consensus about how to pay for reform, the House was promising to end the week on an encouraging note. They had a program to cover almost everybody, with good insurance, and they had ways to pay for it.
But I'm not reading the House bill because, at least officially, there's no bill to read. Late Thursday night, House leaders decided to postpone the unveiling at least until Monday.
By itself, this isn't the end of the world. A few more days won't make much difference and, by all accounts, the House is far closer to agreement on key controversies than the Senate is. Remember, the three House committees that share jurisdiction are still working hand-in-hand, writing one bill. That's a remarkable achievement--and quite a contrast to the Senate, where the two relevant committees (Finance and HELP) seem, if anything, to be moving further away from one another.
Still, there's reason for concern. Not panic, not alarm, just concern. On Thursday, as Politico details, the leadership got hit with a flurry of letters from several groups of extremely unhappy members. Some were objecting to the design of the public plan. Some were objecting to proposed tax hikes. Some thought the bill didn't do enough to control costs. Some thought it did too much (although, of course, they didn't quite put it that way).
But lurking behind all of these complaints, according to several sources I consulted Thursday evening, is a general wariness of taking a political plunge on health care. Like their counterparts in the Senate, House members don't like taking hard votes. Raising taxes, cutting spending, anything that takes money ouf of people's pockets--these are not things they want to do, even in the service of a greater, more popular cause.
And now they're getting nervous. They're seeing the president's popularity dipping, however incrementally. They're watching the Senate chase its tail over the same controversies. And having just taken what were--for many of them--similarly tough votes on an energy bill, they're not exactly thrilled about "walking the plank" again.
The good news is that this is still the House, where--relative to the Senate--party discipline matters a bit more and the representatives are, well, a bit more representative. And they have a bill, or something very close to it, including savings that the Congressional Budget Office has already scored at a half a trillion dollars.
So come Monday or maybe a few days after that, we'll have legislation to inspect. And it should be good legislation. But the fact that it's taken a bit longer is a reminder--as if we needed one more--that this won't be easy.