Race is on to finish reform
By Ben Pershing
Gentlemen, start your metaphors: Democrats are within sight of the finish line on a health-care bill, racing against time as Tuesday's Massachusetts Senate contest may rob them of the 60 votes they need to pass reform.
"President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats stand within days if not hours of striking final deals on historic health care legislation after key labor unions won concessions and pledged their support," the Associated Press ledes. For all the different stakeholders who have participated in the talks, it's clear who gets the credit for this breakthrough: "The White House on Thursday broke the last major logjam," the Washington Post says. Negotiations continued through the night until just after 1 a.m. Friday, with Obama present for much of the marathon session.
The New York Times explains the deal: "Under the bill passed last month by the Senate, the federal government would have imposed a 40 percent tax on the value of employer-sponsored health coverage exceeding $8,500 a year for an individual and $23,000 for a family. The tax would have taken effect in 2013. White House officials, Democratic Congressional leaders and labor unions said Thursday that they had agreed to an increase in those thresholds to $8,900 for an individual and $24,000 for a family. Moreover, they said, starting in 2015, the cost of separate coverage for dental and vision care would be excluded from the calculations." Ezra Klein suggests that the White House should be pleased, as it "managed to get the unions on board while leaving the long-term structure of the tax almost unchanged."
Business groups criticized the carve-out for union members, but Politico writes that Dan Pfeiffer said "It is fairly telling that opponents of reform are criticizing a transition period for workers and are silent about a similar transition period for their friends -- the insurers." (Obvious question: What would the reaction have been if President Bush had written the final version of a massive piece of legislation in a room with seven industry CEOs? Anyone remember the energy task force?) Jonathan Cohn says "whatever you think about labor's fight against the Cadillac tax, the fact is that it comes in the midst of a much broader fight for health care reform. Simply put, if it were not for labor's organizing and campaigning, health care reform wouldn't even be on the agenda--let alone on the verge of passage."
Fixing one problem creates another, and the Wall Street Journal writes that to pay for the altered excise tax and increased subsidies for purchasing insurance, "Democrats are considering levying an additional $10 billion in fees on medical-device makers, for a total of $30 billion over 10 years. ... Congressional negotiators have also told drug makers they were considering decreasing reimbursements under government health programs or increasing fees by an additional $10 billion over a decade, beyond the $80 billion in concessions the industry agreed to last year, according to people familiar with the negotiations. And lawmakers are looking to push fees on nursing homes past the $14.6 billion over a decade that is in the Senate version." The White House also made a concession to the House at the expense of the pharmaceutical industry, CongressDaily writes, offering to "shorten the period of time, known as an exclusivity period, that brand-name biologic drugs are allowed on the market without low-cost generic competition to 10 years from 12, sources said."
When he wasn't at the bargaining table, Obama was rallying the troops Thursday at House Democrats' pseudo-retreat in the Capitol, where he "said that the legislation Congress passed since he became president is moving the economy forward and that Republican opposition to the healthcare bill will buoy Democrats in November," the Hill writes. The Washington Post notes that the final stages of the health-care debate come "with unemployment hovering in the double digits and House Democrats eager to move on to the politically crucial task of job creation."
Time outlines the schedule for health care: "While the deal amounts to a signficant breakthrough, there remain many other issues to be worked out--among them, such thorny questions as abortion. And any final bill still must be 'scored' by the Congressional Budget Office, a process that is expected to take a week or more. As a result, sources on Capitol Hill say it is likely that any bill will not reach Obama's desk until mid-February at the earliest." The timeframe means that Democrats simply have to win Tuesday's special election contest in Massachusetts, as the idea that the Senate would try to rush through a bill after Scott Brown wins but before he is seated appears far-fetched, as Barney Frank has said in his typically blunt fashion.
A Suffolk University poll out Thursday night showed Brown leading Martha Coakley by 4 points, the first survey to show the Republican with that large a lead. Roll Call writes that the poll showed "Coakley's unfavorable rating has jumped considerably in the past two months. ... Brown has a far more positive net favorable rating -- 57 percent favorable to 19 percent unfavorable. Democrats and their allies have been working feverishly this week to bring up his unfavorable rating with a slew of negative ads." A Research 2000 poll taken for a liberal Web site gave Coakley an 8-point edge, making it tough to draw conclusions beyond the idea that the race is very close and Brown could well pull out an upset. Both Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook called the race a tossup Thursday, as The Fix notes.
The Boston Globe writes that as Election Day nears, "the White House and Democratic officials struggle with another question: Should they send President Obama to the state to help her? The potential upsides are obvious; Obama won Massachusetts with 62 percent of the vote in 2008, and the glamour and media saturation of a presidential visit, especially at a large rally, would add a jolt of excitement to a campaign that has been seen as lackluster. But there are risks. If Obama visits Massachusetts and Coakley loses, it would signal that Obama's ability to motivate rank-and-file Democrats has slipped." The Wall Street Journal picks up the storyline Democrats pushed hard Thursday: Brown opposes Obama's new bank tax, while Coakley supports it. The New York Times looks at the oddly-named third-party candidate in the contest, Joseph Kennedy, writing that "Democrats here are concerned that some uninformed voters might confuse him for a member of the better-known, well-loved Kennedy clan, which he is not." Bloomberg observes that "Republicans may score election-year political points even if they lose" the race.
More stories on the one-year anniversary of Obama's inauguration are rolling in. Charles Krauthammer asks "what went wrong?" and answers: "The reason for today's vast discontent, presaged by spontaneous national Tea Party opposition, is not that Obama is too cool or compliant but that he's too left. It's not about style; it's about substance." Christopher Hayes diagnoses broader problems with the Washington "system," but adds "the greatest disappointment of his first year is the White House's abandonment of this small-d democratic impulse in favor of a strategy almost wholly focused on insider politics." Peggy Noonan believes "there is a disconnect, a detachment, a distance between the president's preoccupations and the concerns of the people. There's a disconnect between his policy proposals and the people's sense, as expressed in polls, of what the immediate problems are."
Health care and Haiti clearly won't be the only topics of discussion today. Per the AP: "The Obama administration is considering a criminal trial in Washington for the Guantanamo Bay detainee suspected of planning the bombing of a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people, a plan that would bring one of the world's most notorious terrorism suspects just steps from the U.S. Capitol."
January 15, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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