Bipartisan Group of Senators Forms ‘Working Group’ To Monitor Medicare Conferees
Seven senators have formed a bipartisan "working group" to monitor the conference committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate Medicare bills (HR 1 and S 1) to ensure that a final bill contains several compromises agreed to in the Senate, CongressDaily/AM reports. Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.); Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio); and independent Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) sent a letter to the conferees that "stops just short" of threatening to vote against a final bill if it does not reflect several bipartisan compromises contained in the Senate proposal, according to CongressDaily/AM. The senators wrote, "Independent of this debate, many of us likely would have different positions on these issues. However, given the overwhelming support that the Senate bill received and the emphasis that was placed on developing bipartisan solutions when crafting this bill, we have joined together to urge you as conferees to protect (certain) components of the Senate-passed bill." The senators said a final bill must preserve the traditional fee-for-service Medicare structure "as a viable option" by rejecting House provisions "that would unduly raise Medicare premiums or otherwise advantage private plans." In addition, the senators urged conferees to include the Senate's "more generous" subsidies for low-income beneficiaries and provide a government-run drug plan as a "fallback -- in the event that private plans are not available in a region."
The creation of the working group "would seem to rule out" the "51 vote strategy" reportedly being pursued in the Senate, under which Senate conservatives have been urging conferees to craft a final bill that reflects the more partisan House bill in the hope of relying on the Senate's Republican majority to pass the bill, according to CongressDaily/AM. There would not be enough votes to pass a partisan measure if the three Republican senators in the working group do not vote for a bill that does not include the Senate's bipartisan provisions (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 8/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.