President Barack Obama's drive for healthcare reform suffered a setback on Thursday when Senate leaders said they would not be able to pass the measure before leaving for a monthlong August recess.
The day after Obama's prime-time news conference to sell the healthcare proposal, congressional leaders struggled to ease doubts about the plan and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the full chamber would not take up the bill until after its monthlong recess that begins on August 7.
We'll come back in the fall to work on the bill in the full Senate, he told reporters.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was more confident than ever that Congress would meet Obama's timetable of passing a bill by the end of the year, but the initial vote might not come as quickly as hoped.
We will take the bill to the floor when it is ready, and when it is ready we will have the votes to pass it, Pelosi told reporters.
The reform package under construction in both chambers of Congress has been besieged from all sides by criticism about its more than $1 trillion price tag and its scope, with debates raging behind closed doors over how to pay for the program and rein in healthcare costs.
Two committees in the House and one in the Senate have passed versions of a healthcare bill, but one House panel and one Senate panel have been bogged down in closed-door discussions to ease concerns.
Pelosi said there was still some discussion of delaying the House's July 31 recess by a day or two to reach a final deal.
Obama, who had left the writing of the bill to Congress, has stepped up his lobbying in the past week, meeting with recalcitrant lawmakers and making public appearances to plug the effort.
He travels to the political battleground state of Ohio on Thursday to tout the programs of the Cleveland Clinic after calling the reform package a crucial element in the rebuilding of the U.S. economy.
I understand people are feeling uncertain about this. They are feeling anxious, he said in a prime-time televised news conference on Wednesday. But he said the cost of doing nothing would be even greater.
In the Senate, Finance Committee members continued their closed-door meetings to work through policy options on the bill. But they have yet to produce agreement on legislation as a small group of panel leaders work through the policy options, leaving little chance for passage of a bill before the August 7 start of the summer recess.
The House Energy and Commerce committee canceled a scheduled meeting to consider the bill for the third consecutive day as a group of conservative Democrats pushed their concerns that the bill does not contain costs well enough.