Sources Say House Health Bill Tops $1 Trillion As Democrats Struggle To Find Consensus On Public Option
Citing "officials who disclosed details on condition of anonymity," The Associated Press reports that "health care legislation taking shape in the House carries a price tag of at least $1 trillion over a decade, significantly higher than the target President Barack Obama has set ... Democrats have touted an unreleased Congressional Budget Office estimate of $871 billion in recent days, a total that numerous officials acknowledge understates the bill's true cost by $150 billion or more. That figure excludes several items designed to improve benefits for Medicare and Medicaid recipients and providers, as well as public health programs and more, they added."
"Obama also said he would not sign a bill that raised deficits, and the CBO estimates the emerging House bill meets that objective. Officials said the measure would reduce deficits by at least $50 billion over 10 years and perhaps as much as $120 billion" (Espo, 10/23).
The Associated Press in a separate story: "Democratic leaders in Congress scrambled Friday to round up votes for allowing the government to sell health insurance in competition with private industry as they struggled to finalize a health care bill that meets President Barack Obama's goals." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spent Friday "calling and talking with wavering Democrats to test support for different versions of the plan."
"A similar process was under way in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi was scratching for votes in favor of her preferred version of the so-called public option" (Werner, 10/23).
Roll Call: Pelosi's remarks came as her staff pushed back on Friday reports that she has decided to ditch a public insurance option pegged to Medicare rates - the approach preferred by liberals - after a three-day whip effort revealed it lacks the necessary support" (Newmyer, 10/23).
The Wall Street Journal: "Ms. Pelosi said there is 'no philosophical difference' between the robust public option and other versions. She said it is less important now for the House to include a strong public option, than it was several weeks ago when it looked like a Senate health bill might omit the public option all together. 'The atmosphere has changed. When we were dealing with the idea that the Senate had nothing, it was really important, again, to go in with the most muscle for the middle class with a robust public option,' Ms. Pelosi said at the news conference. 'This is about the endgame now,' she said" (Vaughan and Yoest, 10/23).
Politico: "The 'atmosphere' she's referring to is that in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid seems to be giving some ground on a public option - which was long thought to be dead in the Upper Chamber. Now that the Senate is giving optional government-sponsored coverage a serious look, Pelosi seems to be open to their suggestions ... 'There's no philosophical difference between a robust public option and negotiated rates. It's just a difference in money,' (she said). ... Pelosi, who had just emerged from a difficult closed-door caucus meeting with her rank-and-file, rarely shows her cards in public. So these concessions are noteworthy (O'Connor, 10/23).
Bloomberg reports on the various public option approaches that are getting attention. "Senate Democrats are leaning toward including a government-run insurance plan in U.S. health-care legislation, and House leaders signaled there may be room for compromise on the issue, one of the most divisive in Congress."
In order to keep Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the only Republican so far to support health overhaul legislation, and "pacify" some Democrats, "lawmakers are weighing whether to embrace [Snowe's] idea of only triggering a public option if insurance rates aren't low enough. Another possibility is to start with a public option that would pay higher rates than Medicare and allow states to opt out. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today said she doesn't see 'much problem with that.' Pelosi also said at a press conference today that "At the end of the day, we will have a public option in our legislation," Pelosi said (Jensen and Rowley, 10/23).
On a lighter note, CBS News reports from the health insurers meeting in Washington: "Insurance industry pollster Bill McInturff was giving a speech Friday when he was interrupted at first with cheers of praise from people who seemingly belonged at the conference, given their business attire. The cheers turned into a song about the 'public option,' or government-run health insurance, performed to the tune of 'Tomorrow' from the musical Annie. The singers, who were eventually escorted out of the conference, belonged to a group that calls itself Billionaires for Wealthcare" (Condon, 10/23).