Senate Majority Leader Raises Concerns About Finance Committee Plan
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urged Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to drop a plan that would tax some employer-sponsored health benefits to help pay for health reform, Roll Call reports.
According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing employer-sponsored benefits and not including a public plan option in health care reform legislation would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes.
Reid also told Baucus that several Democratic leaders expressed concern that it was not worth trying to gain the support of a few Republicans if it alienated some Democrats.
According to a Democratic source familiar with the discussions between Reid and other congressional Democrats, the lawmakers "were saying, 'I'm never going to vote for that kind of thing,'" referring to the tax on employer-sponsored health care benefits.
The source added that the meeting then devolved into "a cacophony of voices against bipartisanship" because Senate leaders could not reconcile how they could attract Republican support without losing Democratic support (Drucker/Pierce, Roll Call, 7/8).
Reid's comments followed several public polls that indicated the proposal to tax employer-sponsored benefits is unpopular (Budoff Brown/Frates, Politico, 7/7).
According to four polls discussed at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, at least 59% of U.S. residents oppose taxing employer-sponsored health benefits (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 7/8).
Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a member of the Finance Committee, said, "I would say there's a search for alternatives," adding, "There's been feedback. There's been additional questions in terms of getting the votes and public support" (Roll Call, 7/8).
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "The extent to which [taxing employer-sponsored health benefits] is not on the table, it leaves a great big hole and what we are trying to do is fill that hole," adding, "It is very, very difficult. I look at it from the standpoint of health care policy. The fact that you cap the exclusion at some level, you are going to take some inflation out of health care, and that is a worthy goal" (Politico, 7/7).
According to Conrad, the Senate Finance Committee is discussing several other revenue-generating options (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 7/7).
However, "[t]hose other options may be hard to sell to Republicans whose support Baucus has been cultivating," according to the AP/Chicago Tribune (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Chicago Tribune, 7/8).
On Wednesday, Baucus is scheduled to meet with a bipartisan group of senators who have played a central role in developing the committee's overhaul bill, as well as with Finance Committee Democrats (Politico, 7/7).On Wednesday, Reid plans to meet with a small group of Republicans who have been involved in bipartisan negotiations on health reform legislation (Espo, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/8). 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.