Health reform survives attacks – vote by week’s end?
AP Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON – A White House-backed overhaul of the nation’s health care system weathered repeated challenges from Republican critics over taxes, abortion and more Wednesday, and the bill’s architect claimed enough votes to push it through the Senate Finance Committee as early as week’s end.
Passage in the Finance Committee would clear the way for debate on the Senate floor in mid-October on the bill, designed to accomplish President Barack Obama’s aims of expanding access to insurance as well as slowing the rate of growth in health care spending overall. The bill includes numerous consumer protections, such as limits on co-pays and deductibles, and relies on federal subsidies to help lower-income families buy coverage. Its cost is estimated at $900 billion over a decade.
While the legislation would not allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies, as Obama and numerous Democrats would like, the White House was working to make sure that some version of health care legislation clears the committee.
“We’re coming to closure,” said Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance Committee chairman, as Obama lobbied at least one wavering Democrat by phone to swing behind the measure.
Baucus said, “It’s clear to me we’re going to get it passed,” although he sidestepped a question about possible Republican support. Olympia Snowe of Maine is the only senator from the minority party whose vote is in doubt, and she has yet to tip her hand. While she has voted with Democrats on some major tests – to allow the government to dictate types of coverage that must be included in insurance policies, for example – she also has sided with fellow Republicans on other contentious issues.
In a reflection of the intensity on both sides of the Capitol, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson was unrepentant after claiming the Republican plan for health care was for Americans to “die quickly.” Refusing to apologize, he said, “People like elected officials with guts who say what they mean. … I stand by what I said.”
That controversy aside, House Democratic leaders struggled to reduce their legislation to the $900 billion, 10-year cost that Obama has specified. Officials said numerous alternatives were under review to reduce subsidies that are designed to defray the cost of insurance for millions.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, a Democrat who has been outspoken in his criticism of features of the bill, said Obama called him seeking support. “I was noncommittal,” the senator said.
The committee met as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the full Senate would begin debate on health care legislation the week of Oct. 12, which is Columbus Day, honoring the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.
Initial action is expected to be slow, consumed largely with parliamentary maneuvers in which Democrats try to set the stage for passage and Republicans erect a 60-vote hurdle as a test vote.
Precise details of the bill brought to the Senate floor will be determined by Reid, in consultation from the White House and Democratic leaders of the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Democrats on the Finance Committee worked behind the scenes on possible last-minute changes to make insurance more affordable and accessible for millions who now lack it.
Associated Press Writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this story.