Senate Democrats in the 'hot seat' on health overhaul

In the final week of debate before the Senate recess, the Finance Committee continues talks on bipartisan legislation, but both Republicans and Democrats are ramping up their health care rhetoric and considering more drastic options.

Internal clashes within the Senate Finance Committee's bipartisan negotiations "have begun to spill into the open – as Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has gone public with his case against consumer-owned health care cooperatives, which are viewed as a compromise between progressives who want a public competitor to private insurers and Republicans who don't want a new government plan," Politico reports. Prospects for a public plan were looking dim last week, but "by Friday, though, public plan advocates were suddenly feeling pretty good" as the House Energy and Commerce Committee moved the House health care bill forward. In the Senate Finance Committee, however, "there are only a handful of Democrats to might go to the mat for the public option" (Brown and O'Connor, 8/2).

Roll Call reports that Senate leadership is "having increasing difficulty controlling a process that has been commandeered by a bipartisan group of six Senators." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "have insisted they want a bipartisan health care bill. However, the six-party talks have created friction in Reid's and McConnell's respective caucuses — as Republicans bristle that three GOP Senators could give a Democratic health care plan political cover and Democrats fret that their three negotiators are watering down the bill" (Pierce and Drucker, 8/3). 

The Hill reports on two Republican Senators who are speaking out against health care legislation. "Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who said healthcare could be President Obama's Waterloo, said Sunday he thinks Americans will 'take to the streets' to protest Democratic-led healthcare reform in August. 'What's going to happen is, you're going to see Americans take to the street in August, and go to their congressmen's office, and they're going to go to town halls, and I think they're going to let congressmen and senators know that they need to keep their hands off their health care,' DeMint said on Fox News Sunday (Wilson, 8/2). 

And in a separate article, The Hill reports that "Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has a long history of teaming up with Democrats on healthcare legislation, says Democratic healthcare reform plans now under consideration are 'out of this world.' Hatch also told The Hill in a Friday interview he would be 'shocked' if Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) sign onto a healthcare deal with Democrats given the current trajectory of the legislation" (Bolton, 8/2).

"With bipartisan health care negotiations teetering, Democrats are talking reluctantly — and very, very quietly — about exploiting a procedural loophole they planted in this year's budget to skirt Republican filibusters against a health care overhaul," The New York Times reports. "They are talking reluctantly because using the tactic, officially known as reconciliation, would present a variety of serious procedural and substantive obstacles that could result in a piecemeal health bill. And they are whispering because the mere mention of reconciliation touches partisan nerves and could be viewed as a threat by the three Republicans still engaged in the delicate talks, causing them to collapse." The tactic would be a "last case resort. … It would not be pretty and it would not be preferable, but it could be doable."

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., called the approach "more than theoretically possible" but "has been advising that fashioning a health care plan under byzantine reconciliation rules is a bad idea" (Hulse, 8/1). 

A draft Senate bill that would "provide up to $10 billion annually for a 'prevention and public health investment fund' -- a portion of which could be used for infrastructure projects, such as bike paths and farmers markets meant to curb chronic and costly conditions like obesity," is causing controversy, The Los Angeles Times reports. "Some lawmakers believe these initiatives could trim American waistlines and costs in the long run, others consider them pork-barrel spending." Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., argues that the bill would "pave sidewalks, build jungle gyms and open grocery stores… but it won't bring down healthcare costs or make quality coverage more affordable." But a group of more than 300 organizations is "urging lawmakers to include public health and prevention funds in the bill," citing a 2008 report "suggesting that an investment of $10 per person per year in 'proven community-based programs' -- such as providing fresh produce through farmers markets -- could save America more than $16 billion in annual healthcare costs within five years" (Sherry, 8/3).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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