President, Democratic Leaders Pledge To Keep Working on Health Care
On Wednesday, congressional Democrats and the White House reiterated their pledge to continue work on health reform legislation, one day after losing a Senate seat to Republicans and their 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the chamber, the Washington Times reports.
Although opinions among the Democratic members were mixed on how much and how quickly they should move forward on an overhaul, President Obama and White House officials sought to alleviate concerns that any further work on the bill would be abandoned.
During an interview with ABC News on Wednesday morning, Obama said, "We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people," adding, "We know that we have to have some form of cost containment, because if we don't, then our budgets are going to blow up. And we know that small businesses are going to need help" (Haberkorn/Rowland, Washington Times, 1/21).
Obama and Democratic leaders acknowledged that they would not proceed with attempts to pass a bill through the House and Senate until Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R) -- the winner of Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts for the seat previously occupied by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) -- is officially sworn in to office and seated. Obama told ABC News, "People in Massachusetts spoke. [Brown]'s got to be part of that process" (Stolberg/Herszenhorn, New York Times, 1/21).
Scaled-Back Bill an Option, Obama, Dems Say
On Wednesday, Obama indicated that he would accept a scaled-back reform bill in light of the Brown victory. Obama said, "I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on" (Fram, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1/21).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "[T]hat's a reasonable alternative," adding, "Given where we are, given the public's concern, I think that we ought to focus on what we think the public can support and will be positive in making health care more affordable and obtainable." He said, "You could do it in a number of ways. You could do it in an individual, new bill" (Dennis/Drucker, Roll Call, 1/21).
Elements of the current health care legislation that could be retained in a more modest bill include provisions to:
- Limit the ability of insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions;
- Allow young adults to stay on their parents' insurance plans;
- Provide assistance to small businesses and low-income residents for health insurance premiums; and
- Change the Medicare reimbursement system to reward quality rather than quantity of care (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Chicago Tribune, 1/20).
Skepticism, Support for Scaled-Back Bill Approach
There is some skepticism about pursuing a scaled-back approach, Politico reports. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said, "Smaller packages are hard because they are all so interrelated," adding, "You can't do pre-existing conditions unless you do a mandate. And you can't do a mandate if you [do not] make insurance affordable" (Politico, 1/20).
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama shares that concern. "The concern is a narrow bill addresses a narrow group of concerns yet doesn't make progress on all of the issues that we talked about," Gibbs said (Koffler, Roll Call, 1/20).
Meanwhile, other lawmakers indicated their support for a scaled-down bill.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said, "There are many provisions of the bill that have bipartisan support. And I believe the president would be wise to draft a new bill that he could get through both the House and the Senate with supermajority votes" (Stolberg/Herszenhorn, New York Times, 1/21).
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday said that rather than pursuing one large bill, "You lay a foundation and you get this thing done over time" (AP/Chicago Tribune, 1/21). He added, "I never expect everything, that this would be the one and only time we deal with health care reform" (Bolton, The Hill, 1/20).
Reconciliation a Possibility
Some Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday indicated that using the budget reconciliation procedure would be the preferred method for passing health reform legislation, Roll Call reports. Under the procedure, the House could pass the Senate health reform bill and make additional changes that would need only a simple majority to pass the Senate.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "Reconciliation, I'm guessing at this point, will be part of the solution" (Pierce/Dennis, Roll Call, 1/20).
Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said, "If the House passed the Senate bill, could reconciliation, that process, be used to fix things that might be improved upon? Yes," adding that he is unsure whether he would support the action "without knowing what would be included in the package" (Young, The Hill, 1/20).
However, on Wednesday, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) warned that reconciliation "would be an extremely difficult lift," adding that "anything that's more weighted toward policy rather than budgetary activity is subject to the Byrd rule and has to get 60 votes to stay in the bill. ... Whatever went to the floor would end up coming out looking like Swiss cheese" (Rushing, "Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 1/20).
House, Senate Dems Discuss Further Efforts
According to The Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held meetings with senior members of their respective chambers to hear their concerns and suggestions for the future of a health reform bill, which negotiators this month have been trying to develop by merging the House (HR 3962) and Senate (HR 3590) bills (Allen/Young, The Hill, 1/20).The full House Democratic caucus is expected to convene for a meeting on Thursday (Wayne, CQ Today, 1/20). 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.