Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Healthcare Reform Battle Lines Are Drawn

This afternoon the Senate Finance Committee reported out its version of a health care reform measure, on a vote of 14 - 9, with Maine's Olympia Snowe the only Republican senator voting in favor of the bill. Snowe said her vote was only for the bill as it now stands, and she reserved judgment on her floor vote until she sees what emerges from the close door leadership conference to merge the Finance Committee proposal with Ted Kennedy's earlier HELP version of the legislation.

The next step is for Senate and House leaders to merge the bills the five committees have reported out, and bring the legislation to the floor of each chamber for a vote. But, the policy differences within the Democratic Party won't be ironed out in either house of Congress - that final pressing will have to await conference committee work, since it seems clear the House and Senate will not pass identical versions of health care reform bills. The Senate bill may not pass that chamber if it includes the so called "public option," while House leaders insist they cannot pass a bill with out a public option.

Furthermore, the two chambers can't agree on how to pay for the trillion dollar cost of the legislation over the next decade. The House version will rely on a "millionaire tax" imposed on individuals earning more than $500,000 per year, or families earning over $1 million a year. The Senate bill imposes a 40% tax on health insurance plans costing over $8,000 per year for individual or $21,000.00 per family, known as the "Cadillac plan" tax. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina says the "Cadillac plan" tax will never pass the House. "I think taxing benefits is a tough thing to do. On the House side we're coming up with a much better "pay for" than taxing benefits.

Another hurdle for any final reform legislation is yesterday's insurance industry analysis predicting that the Senate Finance Committee's action in cutting back penalties for families who choose not to buy health insurance will drive up premiums for those who are covered to as much as $26,000.00 per family by 2020.

So here's the scoop - the average citizen still has no idea what this legislation will look like, if it passes at all - and neither do the Senators and Congressmen who will have to vote on it. Senator Snowe acknowledged as much: "My vote today is my vote today. It doesn't forecast my vote tomorrow," she said. It will be a major stroke of luck if the conference committee version of this legislation is available to Senators and Congressmen in time for them to read it carefully before they vote on it, much less available to the general public for perusal and feedback to our elected representatives before the final roll calls.
blog comments powered by Disqus