Key Democrat Says He Won’t Support Finance Bill ‘In Its Present Form’
Sen. John Rockefeller, the Senate Finance Committee's number two Democrat, said Tuesday that he will not support Sen. Max Baucus' health reform bill "in its present form." Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to open debate on the bill by the end of September.
The Hill: "Rockefeller's rejection of Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) proposal, outlined more than week ago, is not a surprise. The West Virginia Democrat, who is the chairman of the panel's Health Care Subcommittee, has not been included in the bipartisan negotiations that produced the framework for Baucus's proposal. Throughout the process, Rockefeller has been highly critical of Baucus for offering too many concessions to Republicans in hopes of winning bipartisan support for the bill" (Young, 9/15).
ABC News: "He's not alone. Fellow Finance Committee member Ron Wyden is livid too. Expect a rocky mark-up next week. As one top Democrat told me, the fundamental problem is that Democrats 'are being asked to support a bipartisan bill that doesn't have bipartisan support'" (Stephanopoulos, 9/15).
The New York Times reports that Democrats "expressed a variety of concerns" regarding the Baucus approach. Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said Mr. Baucus, by paring the cost of the bill, had also cut the subsidies that would help people buy insurance. 'This is reducing coverage for poor and working people,' Mr. Rangel said, adding that such cuts 'could destroy the bill.' ... Mr. Baucus's plan, like the other major bills in Congress, would expand Medicaid to cover childless adults and other people with incomes less than 133 percent of the poverty level ($29,327 for a family of four)."
"In a telephone conference call with governors on Tuesday, Mr. Baucus said states would have to help pay the cost of covering people newly eligible for Medicaid. But he tried to allay the concerns of governors, who oppose any type of 'unfunded mandate'" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 9/15).
Politico also reports that "Democratic senators have been particularly vocal in recent days about concerns that the bill will not provide affordable coverage to lower-income Americans. The bill provides government subsidies for people whose income is up to 300 percent above the poverty line. For those with incomes between 300 and 400 percent above the poverty line, their annual premiums would be capped at 13 percent of their income. It's a level that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) says is too high, but it would be less than the current average cost of a family insurance plan, which is $13,375, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation" (Budoff Brown, 9/16).
Bloomberg: "Rockefeller, who said a framework for an agreement that was circulated by Baucus is facing 'ferocious attacks' by Democrats, is the panel's strongest proponent of a new government-run insurance program. He and other Democrats say they will work to change the measure when the committee considers the legislation next week. Rockefeller called for more stringent requirements on large companies to self-insure health plans. He said 42 percent of West Virginians and 46 percent of all Americans now work for companies that are assuming their own risks of high claims under their health plans" (Litvan and Gaouette, 9/16).
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he plans to move the bill to the Senate floor by Sept. 28, according to Roll Call: "Reid acknowledged there is a lot of work to do to get a bill ready for a full Senate debate between now and then, but he said it is 'certainly possible' to take it up by the end of the month."
"Reid noted that once the Finance panel has finished its work, he will begin working with the White House to merge that package with a more liberal bill approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee" (Pierce, 9/15).
The Hill in a second story: "If necessary, the majority leader said he would use the controversial legislative tactic known as reconciliation, which could allow some elements of health reform to be passed with 51 votes. Republicans have complained loudly about the possibility, and at least some GOP support would be necessary to reach 60 votes. But Reid said he may have no choice" (Rushing, 9/15).