Will Senate Democrats' healthcare reform tradeoffs seal the deal?
The healthcare reform tradeoffs reached Tuesday - no public option but expanded Medicare access - may help Senate Democrats win more moderates' votes. But it's still not clear they've got to 60.
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The agreement dropped plans for a big government role in the health insurance market (aka, the public option), which had been a deal-breaker for a handful of centrist Democrats, but in exchange for that compromise it expands access to healthcare through Medicare to workers as young as 55.
Other issues remain to be resolved, notably on cost-cutting and public funding of abortion services, but the public option had been a show-stopper in the Senate.
“This has been a long journey. We have confronted many hurdles, and tonight I believe we have overcome yet another one,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid in a statement Tuesday night. “I know not all 10 senators in the room agree on every single detail of this, nor will all 60 members of my caucus ... [but] tonight we are confident."
A public-option task force
In a bid to resolve this issue, Senator Reid tasked 10 Democrats – five moderates and five progressives – to come up with a compromise that would keep all 60 members of the Democratic caucus on the bill. Lawmakers in both Democratic camps were threatening to vote down the bill over the public-option issue.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an Independent centrist who caucuses with Democrats, had said he would filibuster the bill if it included a strong public option. Progressive Sen. Bernard Sanders had said he would filibuster if it did not. With no support from Republican senators, Democrats need them both to push through health reform.
The deal proposes, in place of a government-run insurance program, mandating private, nonprofit companies to administer low-cost national insurance policies, along the lines of the health plans offered to members of Congress and federal workers. The federal Office of Personnel Management would set up the new national plan but nonprofit private companies would run it.
Details of the agreement won’t be set until the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) gives its report on the cost of the bill with the public-option compromise, expected this week. President Obama and congressional Democrats say they are committed to designing a plan that adds not a dime to the federal deficit.
After a bill goes to the CBO, there will be considerable back-and-forth – both sides insist this is not bargaining – to ensure that the legislation is budget-neutral. If the bill clears the Senate, Democrats still expect hard bargaining with the House, whose version of the bill includes a strong public option.
Why moderate Democrats won this fight