March Madness

MARCH MADNESS…. In his remarks on health reform yesterday, President Obama asked “leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks.” Today, the White House was a little more specific — both in terms of scheduling and procedure.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday the White House hopes to see the House approve the healthcare bill by March 18, the first day of the NCAA college basketball tournament and just before President Barack Obama leaves the country on an international trip.

Based on conversations the White House has had with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, healthcare reform is on track to move through Congress before Obama leaves for the trip to Indonesia and Australia, Gibbs said.

“We’re leaving on March 18th and we believe that we’re on schedule, based on our conversations with the speaker and the majority leader, to get something done by then,” Gibbs said Thursday during an appearance on MSNBC.

Pressed on what would be done by March 18, Gibbs said the first step would be for the House to pass the Senate’s original healthcare bill.

I guess we won’t hear more criticism that the White House is being vague about what it wants to see going forward.

Whether the timeline the White House has in mind is realistic remains unclear. The House has to agree to go first, for example, and that, in and of itself, is going to take some work. Then the House has to find 216 votes, which may or may not materialize. It’s also likely the House won’t vote until there’s a CBO score on the final, Obama-amended proposal, and as we all recall, the CBO process can be frustratingly long. And the CBO won’t even get a proposal to score until a deal is reached between House and Senate negotiators as to what, exactly, will be in the so-called “sidecar.”

And yet, despite the hurdles, officials seem to believe they’re on track. Gibbs told reporters, “I think this is going to get done in the next couple of weeks.”

On a related note, the president also said yesterday that he will “do everything in my power to make the case for reform.” As part of this effort, he will hit the road next week, appearing Monday in the Philadelphia area and Wednesday in the St. Louis area. The possibility of additional events before a congressional vote remains real — and, of course, if reform passes, we can expect a whole lot of events.