Senate Democratic Leaders Say Party Will Unite On Health Reform Vote
Sens. Max Baucus and Harry Reid are predicting that a health care overhaul in the Senate will attract the votes of all Democrats in the Senate - and maybe even more than one Republican.
The Associated Press: "That assertion by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was a notable show of confidence coming in the midst of negotiations with Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House officials to finalize legislation that can satisfy liberal Democrats without alienating moderates - and get the 60 votes needed to advance in the 100-seat Senate." Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that lawmakers have a moral obligation to reform the system. Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate including two independents, but support from moderates who worry about the cost of the reform is not certain.
Sticking points include the cost and the issue of whether reform will include a government-run public plan to compete with health insurers (Werner, 10/15).
CongressDaily: "'Every Democrat will vote for national healthcare reform,' Baucus said after a Senate Democratic Caucus lunch to discuss the overhaul. 'At least one Republican, maybe a couple more, will vote for it.' The one Republican Baucus was referring to is Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who voted for the Finance Committee's overhaul proposal earlier this week." Sen. Roland Burris of Illinois is one of the Democrats who is hedging on his vote, saying that he won't vote for any bill that doesn't include a public option (Edney and Friedman, 10/15).
Reid, after the meeting with Senate Democrats on Thursday, said Democrats would eventually overcome their differences, Roll Call reports. "Democratic Senators emerging from Thursday's briefing said the session was an opportunity for Members to air their concerns and offer opinions on what a final bill should look like" (Drucker and Pierce, 10/15).
ABC News reports that it was contentious at times. "'Voices were raised, people spoke passionately,' said Sen. Evan Bayh, a moderate Democrat from Indiana who has expressed concern with a public option after the meeting" (Wolf, 10/15).
A specific area of concern for party moderates surrounds all the public option talk, especially in the Senate, CongressDaily reports. "Bayh said ... 'two colleagues that are important to this debate' expressed concern 'that they had heard the process of combining the bills is moving in a direction that caused them some real consternation. ... And that all involved the creation of a state option, but it would be so difficult states to escape it that it will be in effect a national mandate'" (Friedman, 10/15).
The New York Times reports that senators favoring a public plan also made their case. "At a luncheon behind closed doors, Democrats said, liberals made impassioned pleas for a new government insurance plan, and they challenged the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, to defend his bill, which has no such public option." Among the most outspoken advocates of a public plan at the Democrats' meeting were Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. "Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, said the discussions were only 'slightly less raucous than the town hall meetings' that erupted in many states in August" (Herszenhorn and Pear, 10/15).
NPR reports that Reid holds the reins on health care in the Senate and is hoping to get more Republican support. "'I've spoken to two other Republicans today on health care and who knows? We may yet have help from one of those two or both of those, so we're not writing off the Republicans,' he said. It's the same one-on-one approach that Reid used successfully earlier this year to get three Republican senators behind President Obama's stimulus package" (Welna, 10/16).
The Washington Post has a video interview with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a public plan proponent who has received some attention in his role as a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
Bloomberg reports that Rockefeller says Democrats shouldn't tailor the overhaul to Snowe's demands. "'We can't sort of hedge and say "what's Olympia going to do,"' Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's 'Political Capital with Al Hunt,' airing this weekend. 'We've got to decide what we want'" (Dodge, 10/16).
The Christian Science Monitor, however, reports that as Reid and his colleague, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, struggle to get consensus on health care reform, they are facing tough reelections campaigns. "This week, progressive activists rallied outside Senator Reid's office building to call for the expulsion of moderates who vote against the bill. Liberal bloggers ramped up calls for Reid's dismissal if he fails to include a robust public option. Labor unions called on Democrats to reject a proposed tax on generous health plans something moderate Democrats deem essential." Dodd, who chairs the Banking Committee, has problems that appear to stem from blame he receives to not being on top of the economic crisis because he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president last year. (Russell Chaddock, 10/15).
Finally, The Wall Street Journal reports that senators are considering greater subsidies for the poor. "According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill would ensure that 94% of nonelderly Americans are covered by health insurance in 2019, up from 83% in 2010. Senate Democrats may add to subsidies for lower-income families to push that percentage to 95% or 96%, people familiar with the discussions said. If more people sign up for insurance, fewer would face the penalties that the bill proposes for those who choose to go without coverage" (Hitt, 10/16).