KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

House Democratic Leaders Work To Bridge Divisions In Ranks

Although much of the attention in the health care debate seems be on the Democratic divisions in the Senate,  Democrats in the House are also split on what the next steps are. 

The New York Times reports that "[f]ew Democrats doubt that ultimately the House will approve its version of a program to expand insurance coverage and restrain long-term health care spending, given the party's sizable majority. But first Democratic leaders must bridge some big cracks in their ranks, especially over taxes and abortion, to keep their defections to a minimum." For example, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., is resisting some of the proposed alternatives to his tax surcharge on wealthy Americans, such as "a tax on insurance companies for their high-end policies or, as Mr. Obama proposed, a limit on the tax deductions the wealthy can claim."

"Mr. Rangel is one of a small group of House leaders now meeting almost daily behind closed doors with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, to distill from the three bills produced in separate committees the one package that will go to the House floor. Ultimately, Ms. Pelosi will have to decide the disputes, Democrats say, presumably with input from the White House." Pelosi is also holding caucuses "to tutor House Democrats on some aspect of the effort" and listen to their concerns. "With Republicans expected to be unanimous in opposition, Democrats can afford no more than 39 defectors" (Calmes, 9/30).

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., an opponent of abortion rights, "has told Speaker Nancy Pelosi he is one of some 40 moderate members of her own party ready to try to block health care reform if they do not get the opportunity to debate and vote on an amendment which would make certain federal funds aren't used to pay for abortions," The Detroit Free Press reports.

Abortion rights opponents are concerned about two major issues. "The first is that a so-called public option – a government-run insurance plan offering different levels of coverage – would provide abortion services in at least one of its coverage levels. The second is that government subsidies for low- to moderate-income Americans currently without insurance coverage could help them purchase plans through a competitive exchange – including private plans – some of which could provide for abortion services." An existing law called the Hyde amendment, however, already "restricts federal funds from being used for abortions except in cases of rape or where the mother's life is in danger" (Spangler, 9/30).

CongressDaily: "Leaders of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus -- which claims 190 members -- decided they are unwilling to go any further in what they say is already a compromise on their part on the issue, said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., one of its co-chairs." DeGette told CongressDaily added that leaders of the caucus have agreed to stick an amendment into the Energy and Commerce bill that "would require that any health insurance exchange would have to offer at least one plan that covers abortion services and at least one that does not. The amendment also stipulates that the government can place no requirements on public plans to either restrict or require abortion coverage" (Hunt and House, 10/1).

Meanwhile, "House Republicans say it's payback time for the recent reprimand of one of their own for heckling President Barack Obama," The Washington Post reports. "They want a Democratic lawmaker to apologize or face a reprimand for saying the GOP wants Americans to 'die quickly' if they get sick." The lawmaker, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., "refused to back down on Wednesday. As Republicans threatened to introduce a resolution disapproving of his remarks, he returned to the House floor and mocked their outrage by citing research showing that nearly 45,000 people die each year for lack of health insurance. 'I would like to apologize ... I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't voted sooner to end this holocaust in America,' he said, citing a study being published in the American Journal of Public Health" (Evans, 10/1). 

Politico: "His sarcasm, delivered on the House floor, drew a swift rebuke from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which hopes to see Grayson defeated in an Orlando-based swing district next year. 'This is an unstable man who has come unhinged,' NRCC spokesman Andy Sere said. 'The depths to which Alan Grayson will sink to defend his indefensible comments know no bounds.'" Politico includes a video excerpt of the remarks (Allen, 9/30).

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