House Passes Health Care Reform, What’s the Senate to do?

Posted on November 11, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

It was 11:15 p.m. on Nov. 7 when a razor-thin and overwhelmingly Democratic majority of 220 House members voted to approve a mammoth White House backed health care reform package. But as historic as the vote was said to have been, the House action could turn out to be the easy part.

The vote was 220-215, with 219 Democrats and Republican Rep. Anh Cao of Louisiana backing the bill and 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats opposing it. But to say the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate could be an understatement.

“The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, echoing the feelings of many Republican lawmakers in the upper body which has yet to sanction any health care reform legislation. Graham said many senators “are not going to get anywhere near the House bill,” which he described as “written by liberals for liberals.”

Such opinions hardly swayed President Obama, who called on the Senate to accept the House measure “to finally confront the challenges that Washington had been putting off for decades.”

“Most public servants pass through their entire careers without a chance to make as important a difference in the lives of their constituents and the life of this country. This is their moment, this is our moment, to live up to the trust that the American people have placed in us — even when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard. This is our moment to deliver,” Obama said.

According to a recent poll by the Gallup Organization, more than half of Americans, 55 percent, trusted President Obama to get health care right. The same poll found 48 percent trusted Democrats in Congress while only 37 percent trusted congressional Republicans.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has his work cut out for him in amassing the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority as Senate Democrats have failed to reach a consensus on one of the hottest issues to arrive on Capitol Hill in years. Among the highest hurdles he faces is the so-called public option, which was revived and inserted into the Senate draft two weeks ago.

Though Reid continues to push for early action on the bill, perhaps before Thanksgiving, he acknowledged recently that the package is so controversial the Senate may not be able to act until next year. And that’s not even considering the ample time that will be needed to reconcile the Senate and House packages.

Still, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has been asked repeatedly if a year-end deadline is realistic: “Let me do this just so I’m clear, all right?…The president wants to sign health care before the end of the year,” he said emphatically.

Besides the public option, under which the federal government would offer premium-based health care insurance that would compete with private insurance companies, senators continue to balk at the bill’s anticipated price tag estimated at around a trillion dollars.

The inclusion of the public option could be enough to scare off some Democrats and any potential Republican defectors. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who supported a Democratic draft of the bill in committee, has said she will not support the public option language.

The Senate’s working draft differs from the House passed bill on cost, taxation and abortion, three issues that are sure to draw the attention of senators, and their constituents, as the bill advances. Meanwhile, senators are being deluged by calls from constituents on both sides of the issue. Want to put your two cents in? Call you senator.

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