KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Progress On The Baucus Bill Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

News coverage focused on the Senate Finance Committee still marking-up Chairman Max Baucus' health proposal.

The New York Times: "Senate Democrats on Friday preserved the guts of their proposal to reinvent the health care system, but Republicans scored political points on several issues, like the effects of the bill on older Americans. The Democrats beat back Republican attacks on the legislation as the Senate Finance Committee deferred some of the most contentious issues to next week."

"By a vote of 14 to 9, the committee rejected an amendment by Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, that would have prohibited the federal government from defining the specific health benefits that insurers must offer. The government would prescribe a minimum package of benefits under all health bills pending in Congress" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 9/25).

YouTube has a clip from C-Span of the interchange between Sen. Kyl and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., that caused chuckles in the hearing room.

CongressDaily: "Despite a slow start, Baucus said he was optimistic that the committee was making progress. 'We have debated, we have questioned, we have prodded at times, and we have discussed -- and discussed. Most important, we continue to move forward,' Baucus said.  Democrats have shown signs of frustration with most GOP amendments, arguing they are meant only to slow the markup. Baucus has repeatedly tried to shorten debate on Republican amendments, most of which have centered on cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits.

"Republicans countered they are attempting to protect seniors and work on areas where the biggest reduction in healthcare costs can be achieved, such as medical malpractice" (Edney, 9/25).

Reuters: "Four days of sometimes contentious battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee left the main tenets of Baucus's bill untouched and gave reform advocates hope that Republican Senator Olympia Snowe would back the final version. Snowe, a member of the bipartisan 'Gang of Six' negotiators who failed to reach agreement on the plan before the panel's debate, was the only Republican to cross over and side with Democrats on several votes during the week" (Whitesides, 9/25).

The Washington Post:  "In a plodding week of partisan sniping, the bill that was supposed to be President Obama's greatest hope for a grand bipartisan solution was instead described as little more than a decent rough draft, certain to be rewritten by others. The president's own party remains sharply divided over fundamental questions such as whether to create a government-sponsored insurance option, whether employers should be required to contribute to the cost of health care, and who should bear the burden of expanding and improving the current system. And Republicans used the week of committee wrangling to sow doubts about possible tax increases and proposed Medicare reductions needed to pay for reform" (Connolly, 9/26).

Roll Call reports that "next week could see some spirited debate, as Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Finance Subcommittee on Health Care Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) are planning to propose an amendment to add a public insurance option to Finance Chairman Max Baucus' (D-Mont.) proposal. The bill in its current form calls for the implementation of nonprofit medical cooperatives. Schumer and Rockefeller had originally planned to offer the amendment Friday but decided late Thursday to delay until at least Tuesday, when the Senate returns from what will essentially be a three-day weekend in observance of Yom Kippur. Schumer said following Friday's markup session that he and Rockefeller have separate public insurance option amendments and are still discussing whether to offer a single joint proposal or proceed on two tracks" (Drucker, 9/25).

McClatchy: "Do Republicans matter as Congress digs more deeply into the details of writing health care legislation? Probably not. .... The chances are good that the committee will approve key provisions with few, if any, Republican votes. Nevertheless, Democratic leaders continue to talk about a yen for bipartisanship, if only because near-unanimous Republican opposition to a final health care bill could create political problems for Democrats next year."

"'Despite all our efforts to reach across the aisle, Republicans have chosen not to be part of the discussion," [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. 'They want, obviously, to maintain the status quo.' Translation: Reid would like Republican support, but he's prepared to proceed without it" (Lightman, 9/25).

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports on today's message from the GOP: "The Democratic-run Congress is ignoring the public's concerns in the rush to pass legislation to overhaul the nation's health care system, Republicans say. 'The American people expect us to get this right and to do it in an open, honest and bipartisan debate. That's what they deserve,' said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in his party's radio and Internet address Saturday. 'But that's not what theyre getting from the Democrats on Capitol Hill'" (9/26).

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