Democrats Work To Restart Health Bill
Health care reform legislation "has a heartbeat," Roll Call reports, adding that Democrats are hoping a "breather" helps cool emotions, but that their focus will continue to be on eventually passing legislation. "Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said a reconciliation package is under development by staff - apparently despite the opposition of moderate Senate Democrats. 'We're going to be working on this for the next couple weeks. I hope we have some movement on this before we leave here (for the Presidents Day recess),' Harkin said. 'And then after we come back after that week, I hope we'll put the finishing touches on it and get it done'" (Drucker, 2/1).
Democrats and Republicans took to the airwaves Sunday and both sides said that they don't believe the health bill is dead, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Democrats portrayed the health-care effort as a valiant crusade that had suffered a setback but could return to life. 'We're still inside the five-yard line,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sunday on CNN's 'State of the Union.' Republicans insisted they want change - 'No one in Washington thinks our health-care system is perfect, and certainly not Republicans,' (House Minority Leader John) Boehner said - while Democrats said parts of the legislation would have to be changed" (Bendavid and Boles, 1/31).
Democrats "have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the massive (health care reform) legislation," according to the Los Angeles Times. Lawmakers are pushing the issue "off the front page" to give members time to work on policy issues and improve the public's take on the bill. "But in the coming weeks, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid hope to rally House Democrats behind the healthcare bill passed by the Senate while simultaneously trying persuade Senate Democrats to approve a series of changes to the legislation using budget procedures that bar filibusters." Democrats hope to use budget reconciliation to pass the legislation, which would allow the Senate to pass reform with a simple majority vote (Levey, 1/30).
Kaiser Health News provides more summaries of the weekend's major health news, including additional highlights of Sunday talk shows (1/31).
Harkin said the "Senate and House reached a final deal on healthcare reform days before Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts" though that plans was discarded when Brown won the Senate seat formerly held by Sen. Ted Kennedy, The Hill reports. "Harkin said 'we had an agreement, with the House, the White House and the Senate. We sent it to (the Congressional Budget Office) to get scored and then Tuesday happened and we didn't get it back.' He said negotiators had an agreement in hand on Friday, Jan. 15" (Bolton, 1/30).
The Associated Press: "Looking back, Obama and his congressional allies failed to appreciate the depth of frustration with Washington - people's desire for health care legislation that would respond to their anxieties, not the clamor of interest groups." But, this time "(u)nlike the 1990s, Democratic congressional leaders are working overtime to salvage the health care overhaul that consumed them for a year." Obama however, is "standing back" again, the AP reports in an analysis. "He's refrained from telling Congress how to move ahead" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/1).
Politico reports, however, that there are a number of other parallels this time to the last Democratic try at health care reform by Bill Clinton. "Democratic senators (in the early 1990s) huddled for weeks in backroom meetings, groping for a workable alternative. Some of the attempts at reviving it were genuine, while others were only designed to suggest forward progress, observers recall. After four or five weeks, the effort was abandoned as Democrats geared up for the midterm elections. No one in Congress will say it's dead, but smart people can't figure out how it stays alive." Democrats are still considering up to three options to pass the bill: reconciliation, a piece-meal legislation approach, or having the House simply pass the Senate bill with a "fix" bill that the Senate would later pass to address other House concerns (Budoff Brown and Frates, 1/31).
The New York Times: "On a number of points, Republicans and Democrats are closer to agreement than many people realize. For instance, the Senate health bill would allow adult children to remain on their parents' health plan until their 26th birthday but the rule would only apply to new insurance policies. The House Democrats' bill would allow dependent coverage until the 27th birthday and the House Republicans' bill until the 25th birthday, but both would apply the rule to existing policies." An end to annual and lifetime caps on benefits are also similar in Republican and Democratic plans (Herszenhorn, 1/31).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.