KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Finance Senators Picking Sides As Panel Continues Health Bill Markup

Politico: "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus faces multiple challenges as he gavels in another week of work on health care Tuesday. High on the list: controlling the drama in the hearing room."

"The chairman's biggest antagonist so far is Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, who has emerged as the combative leader for the GOP, fiercely defending Republicans' right to argue amendments at length and pushing back on Democrats' claims that the GOP has no plan of its own. Baucus lost his patience with Kyl more than once in the first week of the markup - lashing out at him for slowing the proceedings even as he allowed Democratic members to talk at length themselves. … Two more junior GOP senators - John Cornyn of Texas and John Ensign of Nevada, the current and former chairmen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee - have used the hearings in part to score points against the Democrats. They're attempting to create the impression that Baucus is trying to railroad a bill through the committee before the public has time to digest it" (Budoff Brown and Raju, 9/29).

CongressDaily: "Last week it was Medicare Advantage. This week, Republicans are putting heat on Democrats by accusing them of backing tax increases to foot the bill for a healthcare overhaul. Republicans are blaming President Obama and Democratic leaders for eight proposed new tax increases meant to fund the $900 billion overhaul effort -- from taxes on medical supplies, health insurance and physicians to small businesses and charities."

ll the while, Democrats say "their efforts, particularly the bill coming out of the Senate Finance Committee, will curb healthcare spending." But the Republican National Committee claims in an ad it began airing on Monday that "Your health insurance costs will skyrocket." Today, "RNC Chairman Michael Steele plans to hold a conference call with reporters today to take a second stab at Democrats on the tax issue." But "Democrats contend the healthcare industry will gain millions of new paying customers through a mandate that everyone have insurance and should have to contribute to the cost of reform." They also argue "some of the taxes are necessary" to address healthcare spending (Edney, 9/29).

Kaiser Health News reports that to get the Democratic votes he needs, Baucus is "sure to have to make more concessions, both in committee and on the floor, without alienating backers he already has."  

Among some possible steps, "to appease committee Democrats with close ties to labor, the Montana Democrat might have to raise the dollar value of high-cost health care plans subject to an excise tax. To keep moderate Democrats, he will have to keep the size of the package to $900 billion over the next decade. That might make it trickier to assuage Democrats who want to include more generous subsidies to help lower-income people." Others are pushing other issues such as a public plan as Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is doing. "Still another Finance group that Baucus must corral is the 'wild card' Democrats who, due to an array of pressures, have not yet come to the Baucus camp." These Democrats include Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida (Carey and Pianin, 9/29).

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