Obama To Visit Senate To Push For Health Bill As Combative Debate Continues
News coverage is focusing on Senate consideration of the massive health reform bill and President Barack Obama's planned visit to Capitol Hill on Sunday.
The Associated Press: "Americans can't take weekends off from worrying about health care and the Senate shouldn't either, Majority Leader Harry Reid said as he opened a rare Saturday session to debate health care.
With Democrats preparing to vote on an amendment targeting tax breaks for insurance executives' pay, Reid lashed out at 'greedy health insurance companies' that he said make profits by neglecting consumers' health needs. Reid, D-Nev., called the weekend session as he races the clock to complete action on the 2,000-page remake of the nation's health care system by Christmas. With both sides jockeying for political advantage amid raging partisan debate, Democratic senators used their weekend work to cite their commitment to President Barack Obama's signature issue. Reid's office announced that Obama would make a personal pitch Sunday during a visit to the Capitol, when he is expected to speak to Democratic senators during a caucus meeting" (Werner, 12/5).
The Washington Post: "Obama's trip to the Capitol comes at the opening of a critical week, when Democrats must resolve disputes over abortion and a government insurance option, along with other issues, to meet their target of final passage before Christmas. Democrats said they would look to Obama to help reconcile divisions between liberals and moderates, while reminding debate-weary lawmakers that completing the bill would represent a milestone in the history of the Democratic Party, which has sought but failed to deliver universal health care for 70 years" (Murray, 12/5).
Bloomberg: "U.S. senators intend to vote today on a plan to limit the tax deductions insurance companies can take on executive salaries, taking aim at a favorite target in the debate over health-care legislation. The amendment from Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln would cap tax-deductible salaries at $400,000 instead of the current national limit of $1 million. It would apply only to health insurers that get at least a quarter of their income from premiums generated by the bill's new mandate to buy coverage."
"Insurers such as Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc. and Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna Inc. are coming under fire as lawmakers consider how to overhaul the U.S. health-care system. Lincoln said the companies will benefit from millions of new customers generated by the legislation. ... WellPoint spokeswoman Kristin Binns said Lincoln's amendment was inconsistent with compensation practices and regulations in other industries" (Litvan and Jensen, 12/5).
The New York Times: At least two coalitions of senators are trying to tackle perhaps the biggest question looming over the Democrats' big health care legislation: whether the bill would be aggressive enough to slow seemingly out-of-control health care costs for both the federal government and average Americans."
The Time notes that one of the coalitions is comprised of "freshmen Democratic senators, who have prepared their own package of amendments aimed at cost containment. Among their proposals is that a new independent commission responsible for identifying potential savings in Medicare, also be directed to look at the overall health care system and to make recommendations for voluntary steps that could be taken by doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to lower costs." (Herszenhorn, 12/4).
CongressDaily reports on the other coalition - which called itself "tri-partisan:" "Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., announced an amendment to accelerate pilot programs and increase transparency in healthcare delivery. The senators said the amendment would mandate online reports on physician quality that would allow physician comparisons and reward Medicare beneficiaries who pick high-rated physicians."
"In addition, it would require insurance companies to publicly report on information such as how frequently they deny claims. It would also beef up one program in the underlying bill to incentivize hospitals to limit patient infections and another that allows bundled payments for various treatments. The HHS secretary would get the power to implement successful pilot programs without congressional approval" (Edney and Friedman, 12/4).
The Hill: "The Senate may be staying in session this weekend to keep the healthcare ball rolling, but don't expect any major developments. ... Talks continued among centrist Democrats, and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), on devising a form of the public option with which they can live, and among liberal Democrats demanding a strong public option remain in the bill. Despite these conversations, the two sides did not appear on the verge of a deal Friday. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a strong supporter of the public option, expressed frustration that he and more than 50 Democrats who share his position are being asked to compromise to accommodate a handful of centrists" (Young, 12/5).
Roll Call reports that Brown "warned Friday evening that he is 'done' compromising with moderates and will not accept any further changes to the provision. Brown's unhappiness with the progress of talks on the public option could signal a new complication for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as he looks to corral 60 votes for a final health care reform bill. Brown said that he and other liberal Democrats such as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) who support the public option have already made numerous concessions to Senate moderates, who he accused of trying to hijack the legislative effort" (Stanton, 12/5).
Meanwhile, Politico reports: "Senate Democrats are growing increasingly worried that abortion will upend what had become a clear path to approving the overhaul bill. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) sparked a fresh round of concern this week when he repeatedly and definitively vowed to filibuster the health care legislation unless it included abortion restrictions as tough as the so-called Stupak amendment in the House bill. 'I don't ordinarily draw a line in the sand, but I have drawn a line in the sand,' Nelson said Friday."
"Nelson certainly has a long history of agitating his party by withholding his vote until he wrings out every last concession from Senate leaders. But on the uncompromising issue of abortion, Democrats fear he may really be serious this time. 'There is a worry that Sen. Nelson means business,' said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy" (Budoff Brown, 12/4).
CongressDaily: "Senate Democratic leaders are attempting to craft a compromise on abortion language in the healthcare bill that will not be as restrictive as House language but will win over anti-abortion rights Democrats, Majority Whip Durbin said today. 'At the end of the day, we need Sen. Nelson's vote,' Durbin said on a Families USA conference call. ... Majority Leader Reid announced Wednesday that Nelson's amendment was queued up next for consideration from the Democratic side, but Nelson begged off, asking for more time.
... Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is expected to co-sponsor the amendment and initiated the request for the delay" (Edney and Friedman, 12/4).
Fox News: "...only two issues have been tackled through amendments: expanding women's health screenings and Medicare. The really big issues remain stalled behind closed doors. ... Democrats are so far apart on their difference that they can't even bring up amendments to deal with them. It's so bad that, just to fill time, they spent most of Friday on nonbinding proposals that state they should be fiscally responsible, measures that would have no binding impact on health care legislation at all. (Carl Cameron, 12/4).