Many Details Still Bedevil Democrats In Health Reform Bills
It was the usual partisan squabbling on the Sunday talk shows. Democrats are braced for a significant week ahead, ironing out significant differences in various health reform bills.
Politico: "House Republicans have prepared broad health care reform legislation that is currently being scored by the Congressional Budget Office, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday. ... on CNN's 'State of the Union.' Republicans have put '8 or 9 ideas together in a bill that is being scored by CBO right now' and will be offered as a substitute to the Democratic bill, if Speaker Nancy Pelosi permits it, the GOP leader said." (Gerstein, 11/1).
ABC News: "Senior White House Counsel Valerie Jarrett told me this morning that the President will keep to his pledge not to tax the middle class to pass his health care package. 'He's confident that a bill will be passed consistent with his parameters." ... Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn and AFSCME union President Gerald McEntee have argued consistently that the so-called Cadillac tax on high-priced health insurance plans, would amount to a middle class tax increase" (Stephanopoulos, 11/1).
CBS News: "Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Sunday that anyone supporting a government-backed health insurance plan is not only "wrong," but is jeopardizing the passage of any reform of health care. 'I'm all for health care reform,' he said on CBS' 'Face the Nation.' ... 'But we've got some more urgent problems than that, and the first most urgent is to fix our economy, to get at creating jobs again.' ... The senator said that he would filibuster any legislation including a public option" (Morgan, 11/1).
CQ Politics reports that Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod also was on "Face the Nation" and said: "The president believes a public option is valuable to create competition within the insurance industry among this group of people who don't have insurance today, will reduce costs, and it will be a positive thing. So he is eager for that to be in the bill. I think that some version of it will be in the bill" (Newmyer, 11/1).
Louisville Courier-Journal: "[F]rom the public's standpoint, matters are getting a bit simpler in Congress. Instead of the five separate health care bills lawmakers were looking at just weeks ago, the House now is down to one and the Senate soon will have just one as well. But there has been less movement among Democratic moderates who will be key to passing the bills in both houses. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., remains an enigma in the health care debate. He is not saying yea or nay to what his fellow Democrats are crafting."
"Senate Democrats would need every one of their 60 votes (we include independents Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont) to pass a health care bill. Lieberman already is openly hostile to the so-called public option, even with the opt-out provision" (Carroll, 10/31).
CongressDaily: "House Democratic leaders have an ambitious agenda this week as they work to resolve some of the most difficult disagreements surrounding their health reform overhaul. They will have to address abortion and immigration before they release a manager's amendment in time to vote on the package before Veterans Day on Nov. 11, if they hope to marshal the 218 votes they need. Anti-abortion Democrats want to strengthen language prohibiting federal funding for abortions."
"Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the assistant to the speaker, is spearheading negotiations to address concerns about immigration. ... Meanwhile, the Senate is waiting for CBO to release it from the healthcare holding pattern it has been in since Senate Majority Leader Reid sent his overhaul proposals to scorekeepers early last week. Reid will not share the proposals -- outside of a rough outline of the public option he sent CBO that allows states to opt out -- for fear of an unfavorable score being made public" (Hunt and Edney, 11/2).
At the same time, The Hill is reporting: "Centrist Democratic senators such as Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (La.), along with independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), have steadfastly maintained they cannot support the creation of a government-run, government-financed health insurance program. Although these senators and a few others have withheld their support for the public option compromise embraced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), liberals see an opportunity lurking. ... 'I've spent a lot of time talking to the moderate members about what a level-playing field public option is and I think as they learn about it, they become more and more relieved,' said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a prominent supporter of the public option (Young, 10/31).
CNN: In a video posted on YouTube dubbed "A call to action," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked Americans to 'contact your reps back here in Washington and push hard. We want a health care bill that has a public option.'... A blast of emails this week from Reid's political organization pushed the public option hard and sent a not-so-subtle reminder that it was Reid who put it in the Senate health care bill. It was all part of a below-the-radar, weeklong effort to try to make sure his gamble to try to pass a Senate health care bill with a public option will pay off" (Bash, Hornick and Mooney, 10/31).
The New York Times: "Of all the elements of a health care bill that the Senate and House will have to reconcile, one of the thorniest is the issue of the so-called employer mandate. To what degree will Congress require employers to provide health insurance for their employees? ... Like the House bill, the Senate health committee's bill requires employers, except for many small businesses, to offer coverage to their workers and pay a substantial share of the cost of their premiums, or face a financial penalty. But the Senate Finance Committee's bill has no requirement on employers, though it does impose a penalty for those who do nothing. All of which means the majority leader, Harry Reid, has a big gap to bridge in trying to reconcile the two Senate bills" (Seelye, 10/31).
The Associated Press: "Those tax-free spending accounts that you and your co-workers use to help pay for dental work, insurance copayments or over-the-counter drugs face a hit under the health overhaul bills in Congress - unless a coalition that includes a powerful union, insurers and others can stop it. Bills in the House and Senate would cap at $2,500 an employee's allowable annual contribution to a health care flexible spending account. There is no federal cap on contributions now ... Capping contributions to the accounts would raise more than $13 billion over 10 years to help pay for Democratic health care legislation because it would limit the amount of employees' income that is exempt from taxation. (Werner, 11/1).
The Los Angeles Times has a Q & A on the bills, such as: "Would the House Democrats' bill raise my taxes more than the other bills making their way through Congress? It depends on your income." Other questions include: "How would the bill affect my prescription drug benefits under Medicare? and " What parts of the bill would take effect as soon as it became law?" (Geiger and Oliphant, 11/1).