Obama To Democratic Senators: ‘We Are On The Precipice’ Of Major Health Reform
President Barack Obama summoned Democratic senators to the White House this afternoon, urging them to show 'leadership" and pass a health reform bill. The legislative efforts hit a major stumbling block last weekend with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said he could not vote for the bill if it had a provision allowing some people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy in to Medicare.
USA Today: "President Obama, surrounded by Senate Democratic leaders, said today 'we are on the precipice' of major health care reform, though 'there are still some differences that have to be worked out.'" He told the senators that Americans "are waiting for us to act."
"In his brief remarks, Obama said there is general agreement on provisions to extend coverage to most Americans and reduced medical costs; he urged senators not to let the differences sink consensus on a good bill" (Jackson, 12/15).
The Associated Press reported that Obama said the bill, "no matter what its final form, will be the greatest legislative achievement on health care since the passage of Medicare four decades ago."
A key moderate, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said, however, that he raised the controversial issue of abortion restrictions in the bill. "'I have spoken with the president and he knows they are not wrapped up today,' Nelson told reporters as he and other senators boarded buses outside the Capitol for a rare trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House" (12/15).
The Washington Post: "Participants described the meeting as a frank exchange of views. Lawmakers expressed numerous concerns about the bill, including its lack of a government-run insurance plan, the top priority for liberals that was dropped at moderate insistence. 'Because of the moment we're at, there was probably a little more candor than usual,' said Sen. Robert C. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) He said Democrats agreed that a finish line was in sight, and that it was 'days from now, not weeks'" (Murray and Montgomery, 12/15)
Politico says that in an interview Lieberman acknowledged tension at the meeting but said he "had to do what I thought was right." He said he told "Obama and the Senate Democratic caucus Tuesday that he 'understood how people were upset with the position I took. '
"At one point during the private White House meeting, Lieberman said: 'I haven't really had a lot of fun the last couple of weeks.' His comment prompted a retort from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a staunch public option supporter: 'I haven't been having fun either,' Brown said, according to Lieberman. Obama, who was described as upbeat in what was an otherwise serious meeting, responded: 'Why don't we all begin to have some fun? Let's pass this bill'" (Budoff Brown, 12/15).
The New York Times reported Obama in his remarks after the meeting "tried to bat down criticism of the bill as a budget buster, saying, 'This will be the largest deficit-reduction plan in over a decade.' ... The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, is still putting together the bill, but sounded increasing confident he could get the 60 votes he would need to overcome staunch Republican opposition. Under a timeline sketched out by Mr. Reid, he would move Friday to bring the debate to a close and would hold final votes on the bill on Dec. 23 or 24" (Pear and Stolberg, 12/15)
Efforts to convince some Republicans, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to support the bill also appear to be waning, according to another Washington Post article. "[O]n Tuesday morning, one of those lawmakers -- Sen. Susan Collins of Maine -- signaled she would likely vote with her party against the legislation. 'I don't see voting for the current bill that is on the floor even with the improvements that have been made,' Collins told reporters. Collins said she was 'very leery' of the nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts in the bill and about the burden it could impose on small businesses. Snowe told reporters Tuesday morning that she is alarmed by Reid's Christmas timetable. 'It's going to be difficult,' Snowe told reporters, to adequately review the bill in such a short time period" (Murray, 12/15).
Dow Jones Newswires/The Wall Street Journal: "Despite liberals' disappointment over the Medicare expansion's likely omission from the Senate bill, as well as its omission of a government-run health insurance plan, they have not yet suggested that they would withhold their support for the bill. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said Tuesday she would be able to support the bill even if it didn't include the Medicare buy-in or a government-run plan" (Yoest, 12/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.