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January 14, 2010
The health care reform express
As the runaway health care express hurtles down the track to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue there certainly is a lot of commotion in the passenger cars.
Politico reports that Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership spent all day Wednesday, to be continued on Thursday, in talks aimed at bridging the differences that remain between the House and Senate health care bills.
The White House talks follow several days of discord as Congress returned to the Capitol:
Furious with the Senate and desperate to regain a foothold in the health care debate, a wave of rank-and-file House Democrats assailed the Senate's tax on high-end health care plans Tuesday night, on the eve of a critical White House meeting with the President.
House Democrats have collected 190 signatures in the House for a letter opposing the tax, and they contend they will have just as much difficulty holding their 218 votes as the Senate will have holding their 60 votes. At the same time, there is little doubt that when the posturing is over they will capitulate and send a bill to Obama:
But underlying the complaints is the perception that, despite all the tough talk, most of these lawmakers will back the final bill. And that sense undercuts the leverage liberal Democrats hope to muster for these final negotiations.
Union leaders are extremely unhappy that Obama is backing the tax on high-cost policies, and expressed their concerns to Obama this week, with A.F.L.-C.I.O President Richard Trumka warning that Democrats would "pay a price at the polls if it is enacted."
The unions may get their way, not surprisingly, as a cut-out for union members on the Cadillac tax is apparently now being considered, which begs the question of how much cost offset would remain. Paying for the reform bill thus remains unsettled, with Harry Reid recently floating the idea of extending an increased Medicare tax to cover investment income.
The abortion issue also remains unresolved, as does state payment for Medicaid expansion, and at the end of the process the resulting bill will need CBO scoring once again. A CBS poll finds that only 36% of Americans approve of President Obama's work on health care, and Gallup confirms that with 37% approving and 56% disapproving.
Every proposed change threatens to upset the delicate balance reached after much arm-twisting, making the journey to a single bill perilous at best, even behind closed doors. Highlighting the risk inherent in changing provisions of either bill is a comment by the author of the Stupak Amendment:
"If you're a member who voted no after the uproar these plans have caused, how do you vote yes?" asked Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, one of the last converts after party leaders inserted his controversial restrictions on abortion. "I mean, really. Those who voted no probably went home and got slapped on the back. Those of us who voted yes got slapped across the head with a two-by-four."
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) adds this nugget, from The Hill: "We don't like negotiating with a gun to our head." And Rep. Charles Rangel (D- N.Y.) said this week "We have serious problems on both sides of the Capitol. Serious problems."
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has yet another controversy brewing, involving a piece to be published Sunday in the New York Times magazine accusing Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) of "blind-siding" Reid by declaring on national television last month that he would have a "hard time" voting for Reid's plan to expand Medicare. Lieberman disagrees and is pushing back hard on the charge. More Reid issues do not help the health reform cause:
The scrap couldn't come at a worse time for the embattled Reid, ... or for a Democratic Senate majority still trying to reconcile its bill with a more liberal House version.
With Reid under fire and the Democrats bickering, strong public opposition in an election year, and the race for the Massachusetts Senate seat intensifying, there is little room for further error or delay by the Democrats. According to Politico, the White House is looking for an agreement in the next week to ten days, followed by time for a CBO estimate and votes by Congress, in the latest of many deadlines.
Obama and the Democrats are about to throw the American people under the Progressive express, and they are making quite a spectacle of it.