No Health Care In '09? Says Who?

Senior congressional Democrats told ABC News today that getting health care done by the end of the year is unlikely. This, of course, would be a blow to the White House and to Democratic leaders trying to get their bill done before another blown deadline--first it was August, then it was the end of the year, and now...

But who, exactly, is saying there won't be reform by the end of the year?

ABC quotes a senior Democratic leadership aide on background as saying, "Getting this done by the end of the year is a no-go," plus two other "key Congressional Democrats," without specifying which chamber any of the three work in.

It's not coming from the Democratic leaders themselves: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were both quoted as saying they still planned to pass legislation by the end of the year.

Conventional wisdom says it's coming from the Senate, where votes in favor of Reid's "opt-out" public option proposal will be harder to come by, with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) saying he'll oppose it.

I suggested as much to a Democratic House leadership aide, who agreed that the Senate is probably the source. "We still want to get a bill to the president," the aide said.

Just yesterday, Reid was very deliberate in telling reporters that he did not intend to rush health care legislation. Centrists have long said that there's no reason to rush a bill, indicating they're uncomfortable with an end-of-the-year deadline.

"We're not going to be bound by any timelines," Reid told reporters at a press conference yesterday.

The House, meanwhile, hasn't been so time-sensitive. It's expected to pass the legislation Pelosi rolled out last week, with her fellow Democratic leaders in tow at a press conference at the Capitol.

Reid's comment was a far cry from "it's a no-go," and he reiterated to ABC that he still plans to pass reform by the end of the year.

It's a delicate balancing act for him. His centrist colleagues are uncomfortable with passing a bill before the end of the year; the White House is uncomfortable with waiting; and progressives in Reid's home state are pressing him to force a bill through the Senate.

So ABC's headline is both good news and bad news for him: it takes some of the pressure off, allows centrists some room to breathe, and makes it look like there's no rush for health care after all. At the same time, it looks like the White House has failed, and it makes supporters of health reform unhappy.

But one has to consider the source: one senior leadership aide and two lawmakers. "Key congressional Democrats" can mean just about anyone--including Joe Lieberman and any other senator who may be hesitating, plus any prominent member of the Blue Dog coalition in the House.

This is not to knock ABC for reporting what they said. But it doesn't necessarily mean health reform is over in '09.

In an interview last week on MSNBC, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), the bellwether to end all bellwethers in the Senate these days, indicated that health reform could pass, if it came back from conference in the right condition.

It very well could be that health care doesn't happen before the end of the year. But with momentum swaying weekly, it's hard to imagine that anyone can say for certain that it will or won't, almost until Obama either has the pen in his hand or the entire process falls apart.