Senate Democrats continue pursuit of health care deal

The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones: "Senate Democrats worked to forge agreement Tuesday on health-care overhaul legislation, as they finalized major new provisions to the bill that would expand the Medicare and Medicaid programs. A number of Democrats cited Tuesday as a critical day for the bill, as they seek to send legislation to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in time to receive a cost estimate and schedule a final vote before Christmas."

"Durbin cited the need to send the bill to the CBO and the lengthy amount of time it could take for the bill to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate before a final vote." Also by the end of the day a group of 10 moderates and liberals assembled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hope to wrap up a compromise on some of the bill's key provisions. "The group, which met Tuesday morning, is considering changes to the bill that would scale down its version of a public health insurance plan, allow those 55 and older to buy into the Medicare program and expand eligibility for the low-income Medicaid program. ... But it's unclear if some key senators will be willing to support the compromise" (Yoest, 12/8). 

The Associated Press reports on Democratic efforts to change Medicare: "Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said the idea is on the table as part of an emerging compromise under which liberals would back away from their demand for a new government health insurance plan to compete with private carriers. Instead of a so-called public plan, the compromise envisions private insurers operating under the auspices of the government agency that now manages the federal employee health plan — the same one that covers members of Congress. But Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — one Republican who may vote for the Democrats' bill — raised a warning flag. 'I'm not sure ultimately what is the purpose' in broadening Medicare coverage, she said." Meanwhile, another compromise idea under discussion — "expanding the Medicaid program to cover more low-income people — appears to have run into opposition from moderates. ... The possible deal has drawn a wary reaction from liberals, who support a Medicare-like approach. The idea being the emerging compromise is for the government to lend its seal of approval to private plans that would be offered across the nation" (Alonso-Zaldizar, 12/8).

The Hill's blog briefing room reports on House reaction to Senate's ongoing public plan compromise negotiations. "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday he believes a proposed Medicare extension is 'an idea worth consideration'" but " ... [t]he Majority Leader declined to say that the Medicare extension was an acceptable substitute to the public option" (Fabian, 12/8).

Roll Call: "Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) confirmed that a hybrid public option is under discussion and said negotiations between liberal and centrist Democrats are going well — but moderate GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) was lukewarm on key parts of their budding compromise. Schumer, who is leading the group's deliberations, said there are four parts to the blueprint, which would replace the public insurance option included in the bill by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) currently on the Senate floor. Snowe said she disliked a Medicare buy-in for those between the ages of 55 and 64 and a further expansion of Medicaid eligibility." Roll Call reports that if the he group of five liberal and five moderate Democrats are successful in creating a plan that will draw "the support of all 60 Senators in the majority, Snowe's vote would not be needed to close the debate and clear the bill off the floor" (Drucker, 12/8).

Meanwhile, CQ reports on the looming abortion vote that could come today. "Senate Democrats will seek to table an amendment that would bar federal funding for most abortions under the health care overhaul bill, a top party leader said Tuesday. Only a simple majority vote is needed to table, and thus kill, any amendment. The abortion restrictions, proposed by Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, would need 60 votes for adoption under the procedures used thus far during the Senate's health care debate. But setting that 60-vote threshold would require unanimous consent, something supporters of the Nelson measure may not wish to grant. Senate Democratic leaders also do not want to resort to cloture, a time-consuming process to limit debate that also requires 60 votes" (Hunter, 12/8).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org 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.

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