Inside This Issue - News
Prospects for health care reform become dimmer
February 15th, 2010
WASHINGTON – Health care reform will apparently come later rather than sooner. With the shift of one Senate seat, last year’s most pressing issue for President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress has moved to the back burner.
The surprise January election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown ended the Democrats’ filibuster-proof Senate majority and with it their hopes of imminent passage of health care overhaul legislation. Brown’s campaign included a promise to vote against the legislation.
Obama downplayed reform in his State of the Union speech, putting more emphasis on jobs, bank regulation, deficit reduction, education, energy and the war in Afghanistan.
“By now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics,” he said.
The Senate Democratic leadership said the issue was no longer pressing. “We’re going to find out how to proceed,” Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. “But there is no rush.”
Democrats’ best chance for passing legislation quickly is to have the House approve the health reform bill the Senate passed on December 24, along with revisions designed to allay House Democrats’ concerns.
The changes would probably eliminate a tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans and get rid of such special provisions for individual states as extra Medicaid funding for Nebraska. The modifications could be made under a process known as “budget reconciliation,” which requires only a simple majority (51 votes) — thus allowing Democrats to get around the threat of a GOP filibuster.
“Majority rule, we call it,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said.
But two moderate Democrat senators up for reelection in November, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, came out against budget reconciliation. Bayh said the procedure would destroy any prospects of bipartisanship on any issue for the rest of the year.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) said there was a “time out” on reform as the leadership reassessed its options.
Republicans have continued to call for the abandonment of the Democratic effort. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama should have announced that the health care bill would be shelved.
Instead, Obama said during his speech, “It is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.”
He also said, “If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.”
In response, House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio raised his left hand high.
Obama acknowledged a failure to get across to the public the benefits of his plan. He blamed that on a lack of communication and resistance from special interests, not liabilities with the proposal.
“The longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became,” Obama said. “I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse trading, the process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them.”
But he maintained that his plan was a major improvement over the status quo. “As temperatures cool,” he said, “I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”
Earlier he remarked that reform had run into “a little bit of a buzz saw,” in Brown’s victory, attributing it to “special interests and armies of lobbyists and partisan politics.”
But Boehner responded, “That buzz saw was not lobbyists and special interests. That buzz saw was the American people saying, ‘Stop, we’ve had enough of this.’ ”