WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama suffered a double-barreled setback in Congress on Thursday when members of his own party moved to apply the brakes on his top legislative priorities, healthcare and climate change.
Obama has demanded urgent and simultaneous attention to overhauling healthcare and addressing climate change, saying both were necessary to boost the U.S. economy, which is in a deep recession.
He has demanded that Congress send him a bill by October to cut healthcare costs and provide medical coverage to most of the 46 million uninsured Americans. The president wants climate change legislation before year’s end.
While Obama was in Italy on Thursday encouraging world leaders to intensify the fight against global warming, legislation to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases suffered a delay in the Senate.
The leading Senate committee responsible for developing the climate change legislation put off for at least a month work on a bill, leaving less time for Congress to fulfill Obama’s desire to enact a law this year.
“We’ll do it as soon as we get back” in September from a month-long break, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, announced.
Earlier this week, Boxer said her committee had planned to complete work on a bill by early August.
A White House spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said: “The administration is continuing to work with the Senate to pass comprehensive energy legislation and believes it’s on track.” He declined to discuss timetables.
The House of Representatives last month narrowly passed its version of a bill to cut carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.
The Senate delay came as senators continued to bicker over how to reduce industrial emissions of carbon dioxide without putting U.S. businesses and consumers at a disadvantage.
Congress, which is controlled by Obama’s Democrats, also was preoccupied with healthcare reform as lawmakers in both chambers worked on draft proposals to revamp the bureaucratic U.S. healthcare system.
Supporters of the healthcare overhaul are searching for ways to bring down the plan’s price tag of at least $1 trillion and pay for it without raising taxes on the middle class and poor.
Some of the U.S. Senate’s main players on climate change also are central to the healthcare reform debate in Congress.
The House of Representatives’ healthcare plan faced a possible delay after a group of fiscally conservative Democrats let it be known that they were not happy with the cost and direction of the draft.
The so-called Blue Dog Democrats put their concerns in a letter released after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed that she intends to win House passage by Congress’s August recess of a comprehensive healthcare bill.
In the letter to Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Blue Dog faction said that the House should “pare back some of the cost-drivers to produce a bill that we can afford.”
“Paying for health care reform must start with finding savings within the current delivery system and maximizing the value of our health care dollar before we ask the public to pay more,” the letter said.
The group complained that the House bill failed to reform payments to doctors, hospitals and insurers and lacked provisions to shield small businesses from excessive costs.
With rapidly dwindling legislative time until the House and Senate take their August break, the conservative Democrats also insisted there must be sufficient time to review any legislation and discuss it before a floor vote.
Separately on Thursday, Democratic senators crafting their version of a healthcare reform bill said they were trying to wring billions of dollars more in savings out of proposals to reform Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals and insurers.
Additional reporting by Tom Ferraro, Steve Holland, Kim Dixon and Rick Cowan; Editing by Paul Simao