Quietly, Health Care Debate Enters Crucial New Phase
By Ben Pershing
Quick quiz, what was the most important thing that happened in Washington yesterday? Was it a) Sonia Sotomayor endured her second day of confirmation hearings, with both senators' questions and her answers proceeding mostly free of surprise or controversy? Or was it b) A trio of House committees unveiled a $1.2 trillion health care reform bill that would raise taxes on the wealthy, add millions of people to the insurance rolls and transform a significant chunk of the economy?
Of course, Sotomayor is up for a lifetime appointment to the court, so her confirmation is important by default. But while her hearings draw armies of cameras and reporters, the debate over health care is quietly entering a crucial new phase. As The New York Times notes, "After months of setbacks and uncertainty, House Democrats were jubilant as they introduced their proposal." Jonathan Cohn, a much-cited reform advocate, says that while the House bill isn't perfect, "I gave up on perfect quite a while ago. And I'm sure more flaws will emerge as we all have time to give this more scrutiny. ... But within the existing political constraints, it's hard to do imagine a much better bill than this."
Plenty of hurdles remain: House Democrats still face unease within their conservative Blue Dog caucus over the bill's cost and its tax increases, while Senate Democrats are working to reconcile competing visions of reform. The 1,000-plus page House bill, which the Los Angeles Times calls "among the most liberal of several competing blueprints for revamping the system," has little chance of progressing in the Senate. The Wall Street Journal points out that the bill's penalty on companies that don't provide insurance "triggered the sharpest criticism yet from employer groups, who said the burden on small business is too high and doesn't do enough to help them expand insurance coverage." But despite that and other criticisms, the House measure does lay down an important marker for future conference negotiations, particularly since it includes a public insurance option and the eventual Senate bill may not.
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