Democratic Lawmakers Seek Momentum, Republican Votes As Two Versions Of Reform Bills Are Combined
Democrats are seeking momentum and votes -- from both Democrats and Republicans -- as leaders work to combine the two versions of reform approved by Senate committees.
The Hill reports that Democrats are preaching unity as their leaders merge the bills: Baucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and "Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), representing the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, met behind closed doors with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and several of President Barack Obama's closest advisers. It was the first of many such meetings that Democrats hope will culminate in a bill that will unite the party and retain the support of their lone Republican ally, Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine)" (Young, 10/14).
The White House team also includes "the budget director, Peter R. Orszag; the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius; and the health care policy coordinator, Nancy-Ann DeParle," The New York Times reports (Herszenhorn and Pear, 10/14).
NPR reports on what might make it into the final Senate bill. "There are a few certainties: There is little doubt that the ultimate Senate bill will include changes that prohibit insurers from denying coverage to Americans with pre-existing health conditions or canceling coverage when a policyholder gets sick. And both Senate bills contain similar provisions for creating state-based insurance exchanges - or pools - that can be used by poor and low-income individuals and families, and small businesses, to purchase more affordable coverage." An expansion of Medicaid is expected to make the cut as well (Halloran, 10/14).
The Wall Street Journal reports that Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has signaled a willingness to work with Democrats on reform, complicating efforts by Republicans to slow the debate. "Ms. Collins said the finance-panel bill is the 'best effort so far' on Capitol Hill, though she said she has 'serious concerns' with it, including the impact of Medicare cuts on seniors." With party unity unassured, Democrats are trying to gain as many Republican votes in the Senate that they can to attract the 60 they need to pass reforms (Hitt, Adamy and Bendavid, 10/15).
The Christian Science Monitor on how Democrats can get to 60 votes in the Senate: "Democrats might need all 58 Democrats in the Senate, as well as the two independents who sit with the majority caucus, in order to get the 60 votes needed to defeat a Republican filibuster. So they welcomed the return of Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia Wednesday, who had been absent for health reasons in recent months" (Russell Chaddock, 10/14).
Even in the House, at least a few Republicans are considering voting for a more moderate House-Senate compromise bill including Reps. Mike Castle, Jo Ann Emerson and Shelley Moore Capito, Politico reports. "If the bill's backers succeed in boosting its popularity in the coming weeks, House Republicans in competitive races could face pressure from home to get on board" (Allen, 10/14).
But some Republicans are saying the bill is marching left, NPR reports in a second story. Sen. Chuck Grassley said "'It will be clear that this bill is already moving on a slippery slope to more and more government control of health care'" (Welna, 10/14).
Republicans are also trying to demand two months of debate on the bill on the Senate floor, Roll Call reports. "But (Reid) dismissed remarks made moments earlier by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who insisted that whatever bill emerges be given more floor time than the four weeks accorded a recent agriculture bill. The quality of the final bill, Reid said, is more important than the quantity of time allowed the debate" It's unlikely Democrats could allow two months of debate and pass a health care reform bill by the end of the year as President Obama has asked (Drucker, 10/14).