KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Contentious Party Politics Consume Health Care Debate

News outlets report on the party politics of the health care debate.

The Wall Street Journal's Capital Journal details the tough choices facing Democrats. "At this stage in the sausage-making process that is writing legislation, nobody is under the illusion he or she is working on anything like the perfect health bill, or one that is growing in popularity. A series of recent polls shows the opposite -- that support is eroding the longer the bill hangs in the balance. Which presents Democrats, broadly speaking, with a gut-level decision: to push across the finish line, or, alternately, to take advantage of multiple opportunities that will be made available in the next two weeks to pull the plug instead" (Seib, 12/15).

The Associated Press reports on efforts to overcome obstacles. "After months of turmoil, President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats are reaching for the unity they need to pass health care legislation by Christmas, but without the government-run insurance program that liberals have long sought. Even an expansion of Medicare, initially proposed as a backup to the government option, appeared unlikely to survive following a closed-door senators-only meeting called to consider trade-offs necessary to assure 60 votes for the bill ... Disputes over abortion and the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries also simmered as the Senate entered a third week of debate on the legislation" (Werner, 12/15).

The New York Times reports that the health battle echoes the fight over the stimulus. "When the Senate was in the final throes of negotiating the economic stimulus package this year, a band of centrist lawmakers - including Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, Republicans of Maine; Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska; and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut - forced Democratic Congressional leaders and the White House to scale back the bill, slicing out billions of dollars in health and education programs. … Now, as the brokering of major health care legislation comes down to the wire, some of the very same centrist senators are singing the very same tune" (Herszenhorn, 12/14).

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the Democrats and Republicans have switched roles on Medicare. "For decades, Republicans scraped and clawed to cut money from Medicare. But these days, they're talking as if they created the popular health care program for seniors. And Democrats - seeking to trim more than $450 billion from the safety net for seniors over the next 10 years to help finance a sweeping health reform bill - are having to swallow their old rants against cutting the program. In the war over health care reform, both parties seem to be surrendering old turf and defending new territory, as fiscal realities and pocketbook politics force reversals in long-standing positions" (O'Connor, 12/15).

McClatchy reports that while there is contention over a number of specific health care proposals, lawmakers actually agree on many issues. "The headlines will say that Senate Democrats struggled Monday to find common ground on the more contentious issues, and President Barack Obama planned to meet with them Tuesday afternoon. At the same time, though, there's little discord over plans to require insurers to offer a minimum amount of coverage to nearly everyone, and the Democratic-authored House of Representatives and Senate bills bar insurers from denying coverage or raising rates because of pre-existing conditions" (Lightman, 12/14).

In a separate article, Politico reports on more party squabbling. "Republican National Chairman Michael Steele charged Monday that Democrats are more focused on 'whining and complaining' about GOP efforts to block health care reform than they are on passing the bill being debated in the Senate. 'The real story is about a party consumed by their own monopoly of power in this town, Steele said of Democrats during a press conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters. 'They have every lever in their hand and at every turn they look for someone else to blame'" (Barr, 12/14).

Meanwhile, "Convinced for the first time that they can bring down Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) health care reform package, Republicans are trying to get votes on more amendments as part of a strategy to divide the Democratic Conference and turn a few wayward moderates against the bill," Roll Call reports. "A group of moderate Democrats have repeatedly joined the Republicans in supporting losing amendments aimed at removing Medicare cuts and tax increases from Reid's bill, and the GOP believes there are only so many of these losses centrist Members of the majority can stomach before they walk away from the health care package in its entirety" (Drucker, 12/15).

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