Democrats say they are confident they can fashion a deal on a health care reform package that can pass before the holidays. But with stalling tactics from Republicans who are united in opposition to the sweeping health system overhaul, and with some hurdles within their own caucus, that deadline is looking next to impossible.
Mr. Obama invited all Senate Democrats to the White House for a meeting Tuesday afternoon in what CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes called a unity event, seeking to hold together the 60 votes required.
To gain that unity, some measures in the 2,100-page legislation are being tossed overboard, including a plan to allow Americans younger than 65 to buy into Medicare. The Medicare buy-in was a plan Democrats hit on to replace the public option, which didn't have enough votes. Now Democrats say both ideas are probably dead.
CBS News chief Washington correspondent and host of "Face the Nation" Bob Schieffer said that, for Democrats, whatever consensus is gained from a stripped-down bill is better than none at all.
"The president's going to call all the Democrats up to the White House today, [and] they'll come out and say they've reached consensus on health care reform," Schieffer predicted on "The Early Show" this morning. But, "nobody is quite certain what is in this bill."
He called the Medicare buy-in proposal a "non-starter" because it lost key votes within the Democratic caucus. "When Senator Lieberman said on "Face the Nation" Sunday he couldn't be for that, there went the 60 votes needed, because you've got to have every single Democrat in the Senate to vote for this thing - because all of the Republicans are against it."
Health care for every American? Any consensus met today will be on narrower targets of health care reform than that, such as prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. "They're going to put something together that expands health care, there's no question about that," Schieffer said. "There will be a lot of significant stuff in this."
But no public option or Medicare buy-in. And therein lies the next hurdle for Democrats unified in the Senate . . .
"A lot of people are saying this is a make-or-break time for this legislation, or a make-or-break it time for the Democrats," "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith said. "Are they 'damned if they do and damned if they don't'? Because the Republicans will surely use this as ammunition against every single person who will be around next year."
"I don't think there's any question of that, from a political standpoint," Schieffer replied. "But this is not the make-or-break time on this, because let us not forget that the House of Representatives has to approve whatever it is that the Senate does. And remember there are a lot of liberals in the House who say they may not, or will not, vote for this unless it does include some version of the public option.
"So this is just Step One. This is not over yet. We've got to see what the House is going to do. They could blow the whole thing up."