As Democrats Eye Going It Alone, Some Recommit To Bipartisan Reform

While some Democrats maintain that bipartisan health care reform work still has potential, others seem to be hedging their bets. The Christian Science Monitor reports that "In all likelihood, (White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and press secretary Robert Gibbs) are engaging in creative ambiguity, designed to send signals to multiple audiences – friend and foe – and keep options open as long as possible." And, as Gibbs himself said, it is still August. "Crunch time for passing reform by the end of the year is still months away. The longer the White House is able to keep its options open, the greater its chances of settling on a firm position that can pass both houses of Congress."

"Meanwhile, facts on the ground indicate that bipartisanship is not completely dead." Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Wednesday that "bipartisan progress continues." He also said the bipartisan group of six committee negotiators would meet today by telephone (Feldmann, 8/19).

The Wall Street Journal reports that Democratic leadership and the White House see little chance of bipartisan support and are considering passing the most expensive parts of the legislation separate from larger reform, and solely with Democratic votes: "The idea is the latest effort by Democrats to escape the morass caused by delays in Congress, as well as voter discontent crystallized in angry town-hall meetings. Polls suggest the overhaul plans are losing public support, giving Republicans less incentive to go along. … In recent days, Democratic leaders have concluded they can pack more of their health overhaul plans under this procedure.... They might even be able to include a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers, a key demand of the party's liberal wing, but that remains uncertain" (Weisman and Bendavid, 8/20).

But bipartisan hope remains, The Hill reports: "'Bipartisan progress continues,' Baucus said. 'The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate. ... I am confident we will continue our steady progress toward health care reform that will lower costs and provide quality, affordable coverage to all Americans'" (Rushing, 8/19).

Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee, said Wednesday "that the outpouring of anger at town hall meetings this month has fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort," The Washington Post reports. Grassley also called on President Obama to publicly state that he'd sign a bill without a public plan in it and that lawmakers should focus on getting 80 votes (Montgomery and Bacon, 8/20).

Democratic leadership is still talking as if a bipartisan bill is possible going forward, however, The Hill reports in a second story: "A senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that Democratic leaders would prefer to advance a bipartisan bill through the Senate, instead of forcing it through using special budgetary rules" (Bolton, 8/19). 

"Privately, Democrats are preparing a one-party push, which they feel is all but inevitable," The Associated Press reports. "On Wednesday, Jim Manley, spokesman for (Reid) warned Republicans that (budget) reconciliation is a real option. The White House and Senate Democratic leaders still prefer a bipartisan bill, he said, but 'patience is not unlimited and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary'" (Babington, 8/20).

CBS News: "Worried that the White House is caving under pressure from the right, some liberal democrats are now pushing for a 'go it alone' strategy on health care reform that does not include Republicans at all. 'Over and over again the Republicans have said no,' said Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md. 'I don't think that they want reform'" (Cordes, 8/19).

Still Republican and insurance industry attacks may eventually force Democrats to scale back some of their reform provisions, Kaiser Health News reports: "Indeed, a senior Senate Democratic aide acknowledged earlier this week that Democrats likely will have to 'scale back' the package this fall if the ongoing bipartisan negotiations involving six Finance Committee members fall apart. 'If we don't get something by mid-September, there will be a great deal of interest in reconsidering whether we need to go down a different path,' the aide said in an interview. 'There are legions of ways you could go'" (Pianin and Carey, 8/20).

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