The House Democratic leadership has reached a deal with the “blue dog” Democrats on health care legislation. The compromise clears the way for a vote in the House, but under the agreement that vote will not occur until September.
This means that members will have time to study the legislation before voting. And because they will be hearing from their constituents during the August recess, some members may actually take advantage of their study time.
The essence of the compromise by the leadership appears to consist of reducing the federal subsidies designed to help lower-income families afford insurance, exempting additional businesses from a requirement to offer insurance to their workers, and changing the terms of a government insurance option. How the government insurance option has been changed, I do not yet know.
The compromise brought an angry reaction from the most liberal Democratic members. Lynn Woolsey of California, the head of the Progressive Caucus, declared, “I think they have no idea how many people are against this; they can’t possibly be taking us seriously if they’re going to bring this forward.”
By contrast, the White House says it is pleased with the deal, even though President Obama’s August “deadline” will not be satisfied. In fact, the White House reportedly participated in hammering out the compromise.
Meanwhile, on the Senate side, “bipartisan negotiators” led by Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Charles Grassley are said to be making “progress” on compromise legislation. Whether that generic claim means anything is anyone’s guess. The Washington Post reported this morning that the six negotiators are close to a deal, but one of them, Sen. Enzi (R. WY.) apparently denies this.
For what it’s worth, the negotiators reportedly have agreed to omit a provision in which the government would sell insurance in competition with private industry. Instead, as I understand it, non-profit cooperatives would perform this function.
In addtion, the Baucus-Grassley proposal is expected to exclude any requirement that large businesses offer insurance to their workers. Instead, they would have a choice between offering coverage or paying a portion of any government subsidy that non-insured employees would receive. The proposal would also expand eligibility for Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and provide federal subsidies for individuals and families up to 300 percent of poverty, less than the 400 percent in the House measure.
If any such proposal eventually clears the Senate Finance Committee, it will have to be reconciled with a more liberal measure that was approved last month by the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee. And if such a “blended” proposal o passes in the Senate, it will, of course, have to be reconciled with what the House comes up with.
The key to all of this is public opinion. The House compromise should allow the debate to focus on a specific piece of legislation. How that re-focused debate is perceived by the electorate will probably go a long way towards determining what happens when Congress returns. The Democrats may need to fare better in the debate than they have so far.
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