KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Senate Republicans Prepare Robust Objections To Stall Democrats’ Health Reform Efforts

Republicans are preparing a spate of procedural objections to use in the event Senate Democrats try to employ budget reconciliation rules to advance their health reform proposals.

The Hill: Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), "the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, told The Hill in a recent interview that Republicans will wage a vicious fight if Democrats try to circumvent Senate rules and use a budget maneuver to pass a trillion-dollar healthcare plan with a simple majority."

"The maneuver was originally intended to help reduce the federal deficit by allowing spending cuts and tax increases to pass by majority vote, but it has since been used to fast-track wider-scope legislation, such as former President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts. Republicans, however, warn that if Democrats attempt the maneuver, their healthcare bill will end up looking like Swiss cheese. Gregg said that Republicans could file 'hundreds' of points-of-order objections to the bill, each one requiring 60 votes to waive. … Budget experts say it is too soon to tell whether Gregg will be able to carve up the Democrats' healthcare plan" (Bolton, 9/1).

Republicans also are joining together to call for a reform redo.

The Associated Press: "Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain are headlining the GOP's answer to the raucous town hall meetings of August in which congressional Democrats had to shout over angry constituents about health care, growing deficits and the increasing role of the federal government. Not known for working closely or particularly liking each other - the two waged a fierce fight for years over campaign finance - McConnell and McCain nonetheless have been united at three events in two days in which they've urged a more modest approach on Obama's top domestic priority" (Weiss and Kellman, 9/1).

McClatchy: McCain and McConnell told an audience in North Carolina that Democrats should "start over" on writing reform bills. "It's time we started back at the beginning," McCain said. They also advocated a go-slow, incremental approach" (Morrill, 9/1).

The New York Times: "In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, (Tennessee Sen. Lamar) Alexander, a member of the Senate's Republican leadership, recommended that lawmakers drastically scale back their goals for changing the health care system and plan instead to take smaller bites out of the problem. He suggested Congress place limits on medical malpractice awards, create new opportunities for small businesses to buy insurance, and prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions" (Hulse, 9/1).

Roll Call: "Alexander said that while Congress should consider targeting specific policy issues - such as the creation of new small-business health insurance plans - he predicted that Republicans would be wary of even taking that approach. The No. 3 Senate Republican echoed complaints by Senate GOP Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.), who last week warned that Republicans may not embrace an incremental approach out of fear that Democrats will use the conference committee process to reassert their priorities" (Stanton, 9/1).

The Hill in a second story: Alexander also said using reconciliation would "'wreck our healthcare system and wreck the Democratic Party.' … Alexander said Republican senators Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Charles Grassley of Iowa are free to continue negotiating with Democrats on the Finance Committee, and that they may support a bipartisan bill on their own. The three have been given no formal marching orders by other Republicans other than a request to keep them informed and a general idea of what the conference will and will not support" (Rushing, 9/1).

Meanwhle, Sen. Grassley continues to be at the center of the discussion over the prospects for Senate bipartisanship.

Roll Call: Grassley, one of three GOP senators negotiating with Democrats in the Finance Committee, said, "There's a feeling that the only way to get a bipartisan agreement is to defeat a Democratic proposal in the first hand and then the Democrats will come to Republican leadership." However, he added, in an attempt to ward off reforms that would lead to a "Canadian-style single payer plan," he's continued negotiating with Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance chairman (Drucker, 9/1).

Kaiser Health News: Asked whether he remained willing to cut a deal, Grassley said, "I think that it's too early to say. If you had asked me on August 6th, I'd say, 'Yes, I think so, September.' But you're asking me on August 27th, and you've got the impact of democracy in America" (Pianin, 9/2).

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