New President Faces Tightly ‘Divided’ Congress
Though the outcome of the presidential race remains unclear, whoever wins "faces the task of building a governing coalition from a nation and a Congress ambivalent and polarized," leaving the fate of some health care initiatives unclear, the Los Angeles Times reports. If the Florida recount indicates that Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) is the winner, he "will arrive in Washington in all likelihood as the loser of the popular vote, and with an electoral college majority smaller than any winner since 1876," the Times notes. In addition, Bush would face "an uphill battle convincing Congress to enact anything as ambitious as his plans to restructure ... Medicare." Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said, "Bush is going to have to reach out and immediately try to build a bridge of trust with the Congress, then forge a bipartisan agenda that is going to have to include some of the things Democrats want." The Times reports, however, that such a "bridge may not carry the weight of major issues" Bush campaigned on, including Medicare reform, which a few centrist "New Democrats" back, but the overall Democratic party "widely" opposes. As a result, Bush might "feel compelled to make dramatic gestures to build trust among Democrats," such as appointing some to his Cabinet. Should Vice President Al Gore take the White House, "his plans to use much of the budget surplus for major new spending programs on health care, education and prescription drugs would be instantly in jeopardy," the Times reports, though the paper provides no further explanation. Compounding the situation is a House and Senate "even more narrowly divided than before" the election, leaving Congress "perhaps even more uncertain about how to handle big issues," such as Medicare, the Times reports. Although the final Senate makeup remains uncertain, the chamber could be split 50-50, pending the outcome of the Washington state Senate race between state Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) and Sen. Slade Gorton (R), as well as the fate of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who could be replaced by a Republican if elected vice president. If the Senate ends up evenly split, the vice president, also the president of the Senate, would be left to break ties and decide which party "would run the place." Such a scenario "puts a new premium on the kind of bipartisanship that has been sorely lacking in the Senate in recent years," the Times reports, but adds that as of Nov. 8, "neither side was extending many olive branches" (Brownstein/Hook, Los Angeles Times, 11/9). Will Anything Get Passed? In another take on the presidential election, in an NPR commentary on "Morning Edition," Charles Inlander, president of the Allentown, Pa.-based People's Medical Society, paints a pessimistic view of the fate of several health care issues. Inlander recounts how each presidential candidate, as well as "congressional wannabes," put health care issues such as a Medicare prescription drug benefit, patients' rights, medical privacy and Medicare solvency "at the very top of their I-want- to-do-something lists." However, he notes that even though several new health care bills will be introduced within days of Congress reconvening in January, if the "past is a good predictor of the future, then not very much will become law any time soon." Inlander recalls former President Harry S. Truman's 1948 presidential campaign, in which he promised a "national health plan" that would guarantee every American the basic services they needed. After he was elected, Truman's plan did not come to fruition due to heavy opposition from the AMA and other physician groups who warned of "socialized medicine." Inlander states that like the roadblocks Truman faced in 1948 to enact his plan, lawmakers today face opposition from special interests who feel "threatened" by health care proposals, such as patients' rights and a prescription drug benefit. While many people "blame elected officials for ... inaction," Inlander suggests that citizens "must shoulder a lot of the responsibility, too." He concludes, "We have to recognize that electing a member of Congress is not an end, but merely a beginning. Once they get into office, we must hold them accountable and demand that they deliver on their promises" (Inlander, NPR, "Morning Edition," 11/9). The audio file of this report will be available on NPR's Web site, www.npr.org after 12 p.m. EDT today.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.