Will the Dems Go It Alone on Health Reform?

CapitolThe New York Times is carrying an article this morning saying that two of the three Republicans in a small group called the “Gang of Six” who are trying to forge a bipartisan compromise on health care have requested numerous major changes in a proposal drafted by the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, reducing the chances that he can win their support.

Some of the issues they are raising drive right at the core differences between the parties. For example, the Times says that the Republicans, Senators Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, have told Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana that health legislation must include language affirmatively prohibiting the use of federal money to pay for abortion.

The report says that the two senators are asking for the restriction to apply to any subsidies that help low-income people buy insurance. In addition, they said, health plans should not be obliged to provide abortion. Thus, they said, the bill should “include a conscience clause to protect entities from being required to contract with abortion providers.”

In addition to this objection, Enzi and Grassley have raised a number of others. For example, they have apparently objected to the fees that Mr. Baucus wants to impose on health insurance companies, clinical laboratories and manufacturers of medical devices.

Five year wait for legal immigrants.

They also want a five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to receive tax credits, or subsidies, to help them buy insurance.

Perhaps one of the biggest philosophical objections the republicans are making has to do with the individual mandate that would fine a family that went without coverage up to $3,800 a year. Grassley, according to the Times, has reservations about this approach. He believes that “the individual responsibility to have health coverage should be reconsidered and replaced with a reinsurance policy to ensure that affordable health coverage is available to everyone in a voluntary system, with a lower overall cost for the package,” one document says.

This final objection, to me, is sounds like Grassley is saying, “Let’s start over.” While this may not be a bad idea, it will not produce a bill out of the Senate that has bi-partisan support, and could force the Democrats to try to pass a bill without republican support.

Attention shifts to “Group of 17.”

It seems that President Barack Obama recognizes this and  is already gearing up for such a fight. According to the Washington Post, he has already turned his attention from the “Gang of Six” to the “Group of 17” who are moderate Democrats in the Senate and who are leery of the high price tag of health care reform and its impact on the federal deficit.

Nevertheless, the Post points out, if Democrats turn to reconciliation, a procedural move that would cut off a Republican filibuster and enable the bill to pass with 51 votes, the 17 votes could become even more important.

In the next day or, two, we will probably know whether a bill will surface that has bi-partisan support, or if the Democrats will try to go it alone.

Meanwhile, I am sure that many Democrats are reading a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll conducted after President Obama’s speech to Congress last week that “shows Americans almost evenly divided over passing a health care bill. According to the poll, six in 10 “say Obama’s proposal, if enacted, would not achieve his goals of expanding coverage to nearly all Americans without raising taxes on the middle class or lowering the quality of health care. For the first time, a majority disapprove of the way he’s handling health care policy.”

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