Thursday, November 26, 2009

Democrats Make Stride in Healthcare Reform Marathon

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Democrats in Washington moved one step closer to passage of a massive health care reform measure on Saturday, November 21 when the U.S. Senate voted for cloture on the bill. This vote will now allow the legislative body to begin debate on the health care overhaul. The U.S. House passed its version of the bill earlier in the month.

While the cloture vote marked a sizable victory for democrats, more work remains to be done and the coalition they amassed for the cloture vote may already be unraveling.

The cloture vote required sixty senators to vote “yes” - exactly the number of senators aligned with the democrats who voted for this measure – but several senators signaled right after the vote that their support would be temporary unless the bill was changed before being brought to the floor for passage.

The potential problem facing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is that four of the senators who voted for cloture have threatened to withhold their support for the final bill if the so-called “public option,” which these senators and other critics fear would lead to government run health care, is included. Additionally, there are at least two democratic senators who have asserted that they will not vote for any bill in which the “public option” is not included making it difficult for Reid to just remove the “public option” language.

With no Republicans currently offering their support of the bill, all this places Reid in a precarious position to get back to the magic number of sixty votes he would need to stop any filibuster that might be launched against the bill.

Reid does have the option to court some moderate Republicans like Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine who indicated she might support what is called a “trigger” on the “public option,” meaning that in the future if there is not enough competition among private insurance companies, the bill would “trigger” government involvement. But on the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is not open to the trigger option.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) speaking on the Today Show indicated that while Democrats would like to have some Republican support for the $848 billion measure, they will move forward without them. Saying, "We're not going to not pass a bill. The future of the country depends on getting something done, or the government will go broke, private businesses will go broke, and people will go broke paying for health care."

Even if Democrats do find a way to resolve their differences on "the public option," there will still remain disagreements within the party over health coverage for abortion and illegal immigrants which could prove even more difficult to resolve. Also standing between them and passage may be Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut who has threatened to filibuster any bill that includes the “public option.”

As the debate rages on Capitol Hill, the American public seems to have made their decision on the bill. A new USA Today/Gallop poll indicates that the majority of Americans do not support the health care reform overhaul. The poll found that 42% of those polled oppose the bill and 35% are in favor of it. While Republicans and Democrats were unsurprisingly in opposition and in favor of the measure respectively, Independent voters were against the bill by a margin of 53% to 37%.

Also opposing the measure are many advocates for the business community and conservative organizations. One such opponent of the current measure is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business federation representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region.

While the Chamber has offered their support for health reform that controls skyrocketing health care costs, ends pre-existing condition exclusions and allows everyone to purchase health plans at a fair price, they find the bill in its current state to be a disappointment.

Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber explained their problems with the bill saying, "This bill still contains a government-run health plan and an onerous employer mandate, it taxes working Americans, slashes Medicare, spends over a trillion dollars, and--after all this- the Congressional Budget Office tells us 24 million Americans will still not have health insurance."

Despite opposition both within and outside Washington, even if the Senate Democrats are able to retain the sixty votes needed to stop a filibuster and then pass their measure, much work will still remain to be done. After the Senate passes their version of the bill, the legislation then goes into conference wherein the House and Senate versions of the bill must be compromised and merged into one bill that must again be passed in both the U.S. House and the Senate before reaching the President’s desk.

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