Ways And Means Committee Passes Reform Bill, Prepares For Fight
The House Ways and Means Committee passed the House version of a health care reform bill early Friday morning, approving as much as a 5.4 percent surtax on the wealthy to pay for it and readying for a fight, Bloomberg reports.
"The tax panel voted 23-18 in favor of its part of the historic legislation, with three Democrats joining all the Republicans in voting against the measure. It's the first of three committees to finish consideration of the health-care overhaul as the House works to pass legislation before an August deadline set by President Barack Obama." Democrats Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota and John Tanner of Tennessee voted against the bill.
"Democrats touted the measure as a landmark initiative to expand access to affordable health care to 46 million people who lack insurance while driving down costs. Republicans said it would increase costs and force tens of millions Americans into government-run care they said would be substandard."
The legislation has mandates on employers and individuals to provide and carry insurance, respectively, has a government-run health care exchange and has graduated surtaxes on the wealthiest Americans - who make more than $350,000 a year - to raise $544 billion of 10 years to pay for the reform (Donymoyer, 7/17).
The New York Times: "Democrats easily turned back Republican efforts to amend the bill. ... By a vote of 25 to 14, the committee rejected a Republican effort to strike the government health plan from comprehensive legislation that would offer insurance coverage to all Americans. "Ways and Means was one of three House committees to begin formal consideration of the legislation, which could reach the House floor for final approval this month" (Pear, 7/16).
The House Education and Labor Committee in the meantime amended the bill to extend COBRA coverage for laid-off workers until they get a new job, The Associated Press reports. COBRA currently "allows workers to keep their company's health insurance plan for 18 months after they leave their job, if they pay the premiums. Under the (new) provision, workers would still have to keep paying the cost but the insurance wouldn't cut off until they became eligible for a new coverage plan (7/16).
Meanwhile, some conservative Democrats are threatening to block the bill's passage through other House committees, Kaiser Health News reports: "(Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark.) said "he and his colleagues will offer a series of amendments as the House committees begin work on the bill. He said the amendments were still being developed and could not provide details. 'If it's not amended, we cannot support the current bill, and it would only take seven Democrats to stop the bill in committee,' Ross warned." He is on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (Pianin, 7/17).
Politico reports: "(A) collection of Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee criticized the bill within earshot of their chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a principal author. All this bickering came on the heels of complaints from a group of first-year Democrats, led by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, who sent (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi a letter complaining the surtax would impose an onerous burden on small businesses. Asked if there was enough time to change the bill to his liking, Ross said, 'I suspect we'll have all the time we need, given they don't have the votes to get it out of committee.'" (O'Connor, 7/17).
CQ Politics: "A separate coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers plans to try to replace a Waxman proposal to help lower the price of biotech drugs by giving drug inventors five years of market exclusivity before cheaper generic versions could be made available. Fellow Democrat Anna G. Eshoo of California is pushing an alternative that would essentially make that 12 years. Eshoo's alternative has 130 cosponsors and support of the biotech industry" (Armstrong and Demirjian, 7/16).