Hurdles To Clear In The Senate’s Reform Endgame, And Possible 2010 Consequences
President Barack Obama met Thursday with Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the chairmen who steered the Senate's version of the health overhaul through the finance and health committees, Roll Call reports. It is one sign of Obama becoming an increasingly active participant as the debate nears its endgame (Drucker and Koffler, 1/7).
After the meeting, Baucus told reporters, "We are moving well. We've got a lot to cover. The bills are quite a bit different," according to Politico. The senator did not provide details of the meeting, but said the Senate's latest scheduling goal completing a bill before the president's State of the Union address later this month or in early February is still "attainable" (Budoff Brown, 1/7).
One hurdle in attaining that goal will be settling a dispute over the so-called "Cadillac" tax on expensive health plans, a concept that the Senate and Obama both back, but House Democrats and their labor allies oppose, The Boston Globe reports. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said, "striking this provision from the final bill will make it much more difficult to pass final health reform legislation in the Senate and that's a huge mistake. ..." He also said that "this is an idea that will help health reform succeed in the long run. It will create competition and place sunshine on the process of pricing health insurance premiums" (Rhee, 1/7).
Meanwhile, the health debate continues to have political consequences. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., "faced political peril in his re-election bid because he was closely associated with Washington and policies being crafted there, in particular the health-care overhaul, according to polls and interviews with his constituents." Dorgan decided to retire from the Senate rather than run for reelection, but said the choice was personal and that he believed he would win if he did run (Martin and Wallsten, 1/8).
Some Republicans are anticipating broader electoral struggles for Democrats. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, for instance, believes his party will gain as many as seven seats in the 2010 election, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Democrats control exactly the number of votes needed to pass the bill, he said. He warned, "That means that every single Democrat is the one vote that allowed it to pass. So if you're Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas where they hate this bill, the Republicans will be running ads against you in November, saying, 'Blanche Lincoln, it was your vote that gave us the health care bill'" (Gehrke, 1/7).