House Democrats Split On Health Reform Options
After the August recess, House Democrats are facing an uncertain future on health legislation.
"They are in almost the exact position they were in when they left the Capitol in late July," The Washington Post reports. "Conservatives are still leery of supporting a government-funded, or public, insurance option. Freshman lawmakers from suburban districts remain fearful of increasing taxes for their wealthy constituents to pay for the new measure and await alternatives from moderate Senate Democrats. And progressives, who are demanding the most far-reaching reform since the Great Depression, are still threatening to bring down the legislation if it does not contain a robust version of the public option."
The Post conducted interviews "with a cross section of about 15 House Democrats and half a dozen aides" and found that "there is still overwhelming support for some overhaul of the health-care system. But the caucus remains deeply divided over the details of the more than 1,000-page measure and now faces a public that is more skeptical than when House committees began drafting the plan two months ago."
"House Democrats are still expected to take the first step on the legislation, assuming that the frenzy of early August -- with the continual image on cable news of Democrats at town hall meetings with angry voters opposed to the proposal -- has not solidified opposition within their own ranks." Meanwhile, "House Republicans, who held hundreds of their own town hall meetings that drew more than 100,000 voters, according to preliminary estimates, viewed the break as a galvanizing moment for opposition to the Democratic legislation" (Kane, Pershing and Bacon Jr., 9/8).
The Hill reports that "[a]t least 23 House Democrats already have told constituents or hometown media that they oppose the massive healthcare overhaul touted by President Barack Obama. If Republicans offer the blanket opposition they've promised, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can afford to lose only 38 members of her 256-member caucus and still pass the bill." Many centrist Democrats "don't like the public option, or don't want to vote on such a controversial plan when it's unlikely to become law." While it is possible that the House bill won't include the public option, it "won't make life easier for Pelosi. At least 60 liberal Democrats have pledged to vote against a healthcare bill with no public option, which they view as watered-down reform" (Soraghan and Gleeson, 9/8).
Roll Call: "Amid fresh signs that the White House is preparing to back a scaled-down health care overhaul that would only include a public insurance option as a fallback plan, several House liberals told Roll Call that they could support such a bill depending on how it was structured. The 'trigger' approach has been considered a deal-killer by liberals on and off Capitol Hill, and the willingness of some Congressional Progressive Caucus members to entertain it reflects a recognition that a bruising August recess has imperiled prospects for reform and redrawn expectations for what is possible." Roll Call adds that "(l)iberals stressed that the shift does not amount to an abandonment of their commitment to a 'robust' public insurance option. They said they would only support a trigger if that approach guaranteed the same access, quality and affordability" (Newmyer and Dennis, 9/8).
In a second story, The Hill reports that "President Barack Obama's relationship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, strained by differences over healthcare, will be tested by their talks on Tuesday in advance of his Wednesday night speech to a joint session of Congress." In a statement released last Thursday, Pelosi said that "a bill without a strong public option will not pass the House." If Obama "doesn't echo Pelosi, it would be the first major policy dispute between the leaders of the Democratic Party" (Allen, 9/8).
Meanwhile, it has been an especially challenging month for "one Ohioan who has been tangling with a conservative, New Jersey-sized district that turned Democratic only after scandal felled a six-term Republican," The Associated Press reports. Second-term congressman Zach Space, D-Ohio, is "one of 52 fiscally conservative 'Blue Dog' Democrats" and has been "struggling to convince his district of his moderate work on health care." But "[t]he 2010 election season is rapidly approaching, and Republicans - who sent Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to campaign against Space in his district on Thursday - smell vulnerability" (Majors, 9/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.