Senate dumps public option on health care reform

A bipartisan group of senators is closing in on a health care compromise that omits key Democratic priorities but seeks to hold down costs, as lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol labor to deliver sweeping health legislation to President Barack Obama.

After weeks of secretive talks, three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee were edging closer to a compromise that excludes a requirement many congressional Democrats seek for large businesses to offer coverage to their workers. Nor would there be a provision for a government insurance option, despite Obama’s support for such a plan, officials said.

The Finance senators were considering a tax of as much as 35 percent on very high-cost insurance policies, part of an attempt to rein in rapid escalation of costs. Also likely to be included in any deal was creation of a commission charged with slowing the growth of Medicare.

"We’re going to get agreement here," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee chairman, said Monday. "The group of six really wants to get to ‘yes.’"

Obama has outlined two broad goals for legislation he is struggling to win from Congress: expansion of health insurance coverage to millions who lack it, and reining in increases in costs. The president is participating in an AARP town-hall meeting on health care Tuesday.

The president’s top domestic priority has suffered numerous setbacks in recent weeks and a Senate vote has been postponed until September. Administration and Democratic leaders hope to show significant progress before lawmakers begin their monthlong August recess.

In the House, the Democratic leadership sought to allay concerns among the rank and file, holding a five-hour briefing on the House version of the legislation, which was written without Republican support. Democratic leaders are still holding out hope of floor passage before the summer break, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is looking at keeping the House in session some days past its scheduled Friday adjournment date.

A group of seven fiscally conservative House Democrats who have held up action in the Energy and Commerce Committee by demanding more cost savings and other changes negotiated late into the night Monday with the committee’s chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Waxman’s is the only one of three House panels with jurisdiction on the health bill that has yet to act.

Waxman made the so-called Blue Dog Democrats an offer intended to address their concerns, and they planned to meet Tuesday to decide how to answer, they said. Neither Waxman nor the leader of the rebel Democrats, Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., would give details on the offer. They said it touched on the 10 items in a list of demands the Blue Dogs have given Waxman, including increasing an exemption for small businesses from a requirement to provide insurance coverage, and decreasing the size of subsidies offered to poor people to help them buy care.

"We’re going to review it and decide whether we feel it’s something that we can accept, or whether we want to counter, or whether we believe that we should simply keep talking," Ross said.

The Blue Dogs have enough votes in the Energy and Commerce Committee to potentially block passage there, but time is running out for their negotiations with Waxman. The talks nearly broke down Friday after Waxman threatened to bypass his own committee and move the health bill straight to the floor, circumventing the Blue Dogs.

A voting session in Waxman’s committee that has been on hold for a week must resume quickly, probably by Wednesday at latest, if there’s any chance for the committee to pass a bill and send it to the full House for action before the summer recess. Bypassing the committee remains a last-ditch option if agreement can’t be reached.

"If we’re going to do the bill out of committee, this is the week," Waxman said.

In the Senate, officials stressed that no agreement has been reached on a bipartisan measure, and said there is no guarantee of one, with numerous key issues remaining to be settled.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss matters under private negotiations.

They said any legislation that emerges from the talks is expected to provide for a nonprofit cooperative to sell insurance in competition with private industry, rather than giving the federal government a role in the marketplace.

Obama and numerous Democrats in Congress have called for a government option to provide competition to private companies and hold down costs, and the House bill includes one — another concern for the Blue Dogs. But one of the senators involved in the talks, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, confirmed that co-ops are the preferred approach of the Senate Finance Committee negotiators.

Officials also said a bipartisan compromise in the Senate would not subject large companies to a penalty if they declined to offer coverage to their workers. Instead, these businesses would be required to reimburse the government for part or all of any federal subsidies designed to help lower-income employees obtain insurance on their own.

The legislation in the House includes both a penalty and a requirement for large companies to share in the cost of covering employees.


Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.


  1. jverner

    Your representations are troubling. You say that you are “an independent, non-partisan news site that belongs to no political party and subscribes to no political or philosophical point-of-view.” Then you refer to “our columnists.” But this story is not by one of “your columnists.” It was written by staffers for the Associated Press.

    That point really struck me because I started reading this column, then looked at US News & World Report where I found myself reading the same words, but in quotes. Those words tracked back to the AP column which was posted on Yahoo News.

    Of course, if you subscribe to the AP, you have the same right as Yahoo does to publish AP articles. But to publish them under the representations above is misleading.

    What would the authors of this story say if someone asked them whether they were columnists for Capitol Hill Blue?

  2. Doug Thompson

    We have been a subscriber to The Associated Press since 1994. Our wire stories carry the copyright to the source and are clearly identified. We also subscribe to Reuters and AFP.

    As it clearly states on our FAQ page: " We also subscribe to, and carry, news articles from various wire services."

    So what’s your point?

  3. AustinRanter

    The United States Senate dumped America way before health care reform.

    So the power swaps between health care lobbyists and Congressional members continue on.

  4. giving-up-in-nc

    bribe definition n.
    1. Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person’s views or conduct.

    Lets call it what it is, corporate america bribes our politicians with money to influence their conduct. Duhhh!!!!

    IMHO there never was going to be a public option. It was put out there for show, and most new it would die a quiet death. Bribes were given to congress to be sure it would never see the light of day and it worked like a charm.

    My bet is that the insurance and drug companies will get pretty much everything that want, and us little folks will be forced to purchase health insurance from the big insurance giants like most of us have to do for auto insurance. That’s why they bribed our politicians.

    Then over the next 20 years the process will repeat, health care costs will rise faster than inflation, and we will find ourselves in another crisis. And once again the politicians will be bribed, and we will be screwed again.

    This process will repeat as many times as needed until the extortion racket we call a health care system in this country collapses.

  5. Nogood

    Ain’t a damn thing going to be done to help the so-called middle class. This has turned into a circus, a side show, a parade, or anything else that you care to call it, but it certainly has not turned into anything benefical, well maybe to the insurance companies.

    I just received a letter from the insurance company that I have Medicare supplement through and the letter informed me that because of my age, my premiums would be raised, over $100.00 and the letter went on to state this rate increase could be more, once they valuate the state of Virginia.

    Here I am, in good health, I take no medications at all. 74 years of age, still drive a tractor-trailer almost 4000 miles per week, yet my insurance rates go up. Bullshit!!! Where is the damn “reform”???

  6. woody188

    There was never any reason to believe it wouldn’t end up like Medicare Part D. And they’ll get their H1N1 hysteria too. Talk about your economic terrorists!

  7. Carl Nemo

    Thanks almandine for the superb link. The revealed content concerning Obamacare is mind-numbing to say the least.

    It seems that the term “healthcare” as implemented by this regime is simply a canard for more draconian controls with the purpose of monitoring the citizenry.

    It’s going to be a “Brave New World” indeed… /:|

    It seems that the smart money will move a substantial portion of their liquid assets offshore asap to those havens that do not share banking information of which only a few remain relative to the government mandating access to banking and checking accounts per the link content. Re: link reference to page 59 of proposed legislation

    I surmise few will care as long as they have their HDTV’s along with access to endless ‘terrorist free’ shopping…no?! : |

    Carl Nemo **==