Regrouping Democrats Consider Next Steps On Health Overhaul
Democrats are trying to regain health reform momentum during the week of the president's State of the Union address.
BusinessWeek: "While Democrats don't want to face voters in November with nothing to show after months of health-care debate, they must focus on job growth and make clear they heard the discontent registered in the Republican upset win in Massachusetts. ... Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who heads the chamber's health committee, said Democrats would let the legislation 'sit for a while' and then take it up 'in a week or so.' Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who helped shepherd the bill through the Senate, said the break might last as long as six weeks."
Options to take the health bills back up include using budget reconciliation that would require only 51 votes in the Senate or trying a piecemeal approach to the legislation. "All the options before Democrats have drawbacks" politically for Democrats (Jensen and Faler, 1/25).
Politico has five questions on health care reform including about the likelihood of using reconciliation to pass a health reform bill, how the House and Senate bills will be similar and how many "yeses" on reform have turned to "nos."
"The House passed its bill with 220 'yes' votes. But Republican Louisiana Rep. Anh 'Joseph' Cao has vowed to oppose the final package, and Florida Democrat Robert Wexler's midterm resignation leaves Pelosi at 218 - the minimum threshold for passage" (O'Connor and Budoff Brown, 1/24).
The Hill lists 10 reasons health reform stalled, including deadlines, the economy's slump, the split on the public option for health insurance, so-called "backroom" deals, the excise tax and Democratic communication problems. "Democrats never united behind a single message to the public. At various times, they sought to sell the bill to the public as a deficit reducer, a consumer-protection bill and a moral imperative. Most recently they cast it as a jobs bill" (Young, 1/24).
Related KHN story: Why Support For Reform Faltered (Rau, Carey, Appleby and Galewitz, 1/20)
The Hill reports in a separate story that Democrats are following a script similar to 1994's health reform efforts. "Following that devastating blow to the White House, some Democrats on Capitol Hill pronounced the House- and Senate-passed bills as dead. Obama quickly floated an idea of focusing on the 'core elements' of healthcare reform. Some House Democrats quickly embraced the idea, saying they want to pass health reform on a piecemeal basis. No final decisions have been made, but a scaled-back bill is a leading option. Similarly, in 1994, after comprehensive reform was deemed off the table, President Clinton urged the Democratic-led Congress to pass a streamlined measure." That effort failed (Cusack, 1/24).
Roll Call reports that Democrats "insist they will pass a health care reform bill. They just have no idea how or when they will do it. 'A lot of people made clear that in light of the election results on Tuesday, they didn't want to rush into anything,' one Senate Democratic leadership aide said. 'We're going to continue to discuss the next steps and strategy with the House and the White House.'" Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Friday that leaders will try to figure out a solution this week (Dennis and Pierce, 1/25).
The White House is defending the legislation, the Los Angeles Times reports. David Axelrod, senior adviser to the administration, said "that Massachusetts had enacted its own major healthcare overhaul law in 2006, and 68% of voters in last week's special election said they supported it, according to a poll by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University's School of Public Health. Brown voted for that overhaul in the state Legislature." Also David "Plouffe, who is returning as an adviser to the White House political team on strategy for November's congressional midterm election, wrote in the Washington Post that Democrats must 'pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay'" (Puzzanghera, 1/25).
The New York Daily News: Although the White House "isn't about to pull the plug on heath care reform" aides say the new task is figuring out "the art of the possible." White House officials now say the lesson of last week's Massachusetts election centered on "'cooperation instead of obstructionism.'" Meanwhile, Republicans took to the Sunday airwaves to maintain that the GOP was open to negotiating (Saltonstall, 1/25).
For more detail on the weekend's health policy developments, Kaiser Health News provides updates, including summaries of Saturday's news stories about Democrats' efforts to develop a new strategy and other highlights from the Sunday talk shows.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.