White House Talks Up Potential for Bipartisan Health Care Legislation
On Wednesday, President Obama and members of his administration said they still are seeking Republican support for health reform legislation, despite reports that they are prepared to court only Democrats to pass an overhaul bill, CongressDaily reports (Condon, CongressDaily, 8/19).
Obama said he is "absolutely confident that we are going to get a bill, and I hope it's bipartisan" (Youngman, The Hill, 8/19).
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "The president has said countless times he will work with anybody in any party that wants to work constructively on health care reform." He added, "We continue to be hopeful that we'll get bipartisan support, and we'll continue to work with those that are interested."
Gibbs also said, "There are several more weeks to go in potential negotiations between Republicans and Democrats" on health reform, adding, "I don't know why we'd short-circuit any of that now."
When asked if the possibility for bipartisanship is fading, Gibbs said, "I think that's up to Republicans."
Gibbs also repeatedly cited ongoing discussions between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee -- the only congressional committee authoring reform legislation that has yet to release a bill -- who currently are in negotiations to produce bipartisan legislation (CongressDaily, 8/19). He reported that the president will "check in" with Senate Finance Committee members this week to gauge their progress on the bill (Koffler, Roll Call, 8/19).
Lawmakers Offer Their Take
Other legislators also expressed their view that bipartisan negotiations on health reform would continue.
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed that Democrats prefer a bipartisan bill. He added that neither the White House nor Democratic leadership have made the decision to use budget reconciliation to bypass a potential GOP filibuster.
Also on Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who both are on the Finance Committee's so-called "Gang of Six" bipartisan negotiators, encouraged their colleagues not to give up on current negotiations between the two parties (Bolton, The Hill, 8/19).
Boehner Says Administration Unwilling To Work With GOP
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the administration is not as willing to work with members of the GOP as it claims. He noted that Obama previously refused an invitation to meet with House Republicans.
Boehner said in a statement, "From day one, the White House has taken a go-it-alone approach on health care," adding, "Months ago, Republicans sent the president a letter noting areas of potential common ground on health care reform and requesting a meeting with him to discuss a bipartisan way forward. The administration rejected our efforts to work together" (CongressDaily, 8/19).
Democrats Still Might Act Alone
While the Obama administration publicly is advocating bipartisan reform, Democrats privately are preparing to use budget reconciliation to bypass the need for Republican support, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports.
Top Democratic aides said a bipartisan agreement on reform seems less likely when Congress resumes work in September (Babington, AP/Houston Chronicle, 8/20).
According to the Wall Street Journal, Democrats are considering breaking the bill into two parts and passing the most expensive provisions -- perhaps including a public plan -- through reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority of 51 votes (Weisman/Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, 8/20).
Democrats control 60 seats in the Senate -- enough to pass a complete bill without GOP support -- but some centrist Democrats have expressed concern regarding current reform proposals (AP/Houston Chronicle, 8/20).
The remaining portion of the legislation would be put to a separate vote in the Senate and would include new regulations for insurers, such as prohibitions against rejecting applications because of a pre-existing medical condition.
Democrats hope the tactic would speed up the overhaul process and ensure that Obama meets his goal of having a final bill by year's end (Wall Street Journal, 8/20).
Grassley Wants Narrower Reform
Grassley on Wednesday said that the criticism and concern from constituents at town-hall meetings regarding broad health reform has fundamentally changed the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should scale back overhaul efforts, the Washington Post reports. He added that he believes the public has rejected current proposals because it views them as too costly and eventually leading to "a government takeover of health care."
Grassley said that Obama could help the cause by stating publicly his willingness to sign a reform bill without a public plan. He said, "It's not about getting a lot of Republicans. It's about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans," adding, "We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes."
Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), other key Republicans on the Finance Committee, agree that reform should not be as broad as it would be under current proposals (Montgomery/Bacon, Washington Post, 8/20).
Senate Finance Discusses Co-Ops
The three Democrats and three Republicans on the Finance Committee's bipartisan negotiating group are scheduled to meet on Thursday via teleconference to discuss bipartisan reform prospects, the Los Angeles Times reports.According to the Times, a bipartisan compromise might depend on the acceptability to both parties of not-for-profit health insurance cooperatives. While some see the co-ops as a favorable alternative to a public plan, many liberals favor the latter because they believe co-ops are prone to insolvency and do not have enough size or influence to secure favorable rates from physicians, hospitals and drugmakers and thus cannot compete against private insurers (Oliphant, Los Angeles Times, 8/20). 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.