KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Six Finance Senators Strive For Bipartisan Compromise

As the public face of health reform devolves into a partisan fight – with one GOP Senator [Jim DeMint, S.C.] saying the reform push is President Obama's "Waterloo," and Democrats retorting that Republicans would derail the overhaul for political gain – a group of legislators in the Senate Finance Committee has continued to strive for a compromise behind closed doors, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "If a bipartisan compromise is to clear Congress this year, its main lines are likely to emerge here."

The group includes Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. "We're really trying to grapple with reform of the entire system, if at all possible," Snowe said (Chaddock, 7/21).

These and other "members of the Senate Finance Committee have seemingly ignored the hubbub, and a presidential deadline, as they huddle daily in pursuit of a breakthrough bill," the Washington Post reports. Senior members, including Grassley, the top Republican, remained hopeful that the panel would reach its accord before the Senate breaks on Aug. 7. Such a measure would achieve the administration's goals for expanding coverage and lowering costs "without relying on a surtax on wealthy households," while withstanding the scrutiny of wary budget officials and enjoy some Republican support.

Senators floated another possible idea to pay for the overhaul Tuesday, the Post reports, "to tax insurers for very generous health policies. The idea is a variation on a provision that Baucus, Grassley and others on the committee had pushed: to tax beneficiaries who receive generous policies through their employers" (Murray and Connolly, 7/22).

The GOP members of the negotiating group appeared unfazed by the political turmoil elsewhere in Congress and at the White House, Roll Call reports. Even as Grassley criticized the latest attacks against Republicans – and, he noted, some conservative Democrats – by the administration, he said the Finance negotiators remained fully committed. Snowe said, "I think (the partisan sniping is) to be expected, frankly, on both sides. But the key for us is to stay focused here on what we need to do" (Drucker, 7/22).

In a separate story, Roll Call reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was "hopeful" that Finance would reach its compromise this week, and said the president's sometimes-combative steps to influence the debate were helpful. "We must keep our eye on the prize," Reid said. "The prize is health care reform" (Pierce, 7/21).

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