After Tense Meeting, Dems Likely To Ditch Medicare Buy-In Plan In Health Bill

Top Senate Democrats were prepared Monday night to sacrifice proposals to expand Medicare in a bid to win over moderates and amass the 60 votes needed to pass their health legislation, according to news reports.

The Washington Post: "Democratic negotiators had already disappointed liberal lawmakers by jettisoning a full-fledged public insurance plan a week earlier. Last night, party leaders conceded that a key portion of the compromise they crafted to replace the public option -- a proposal allowing people as young as 55 to buy into Medicare -- also did not have sufficient support from Democratic moderates to overcome a likely Republican filibuster (Murray and Montgomery, 12/15).

The New York Times: "After a tense 90-minute meeting on Monday evening, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, was asked if Democrats were likely to jettison the Medicare proposal. 'It's looking like that's the case,' Baucus said, indicating that the provision might be dropped as a way of "getting support from 60 senators." The view of lawmakers – all 58 Senate Democrats and 2 independents who caucus with the party – in the meeting was that "they should forge ahead with some legislation even if it was not all that they wanted" (Hulse and Pear, 12/14).

The Wall Street Journal: "The idea of letting people ages 55 to 64 buy into Medicare, announced just last week, had threatened to explode the Democrats' hopes of getting a bill through the Senate when Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I-Conn.] came out against it." Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said lawmakers agreed that they should move to head off that dispute before it stalled the legislation (Hitt, 12/15).

USA Today: "Talk of dropping the Medicare idea … underscores the lengths Democratic leaders are going in their quest to hold their 60-member caucus together to pass some form of legislation by the end of the year." But, Lieberman's reaction to Monday nights talk remained noncommittal. "Put me down… as encouraged about the direction," he said (Fritze, 12/15).

Politico: Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., "a big supporter of the public option and the Medicare idea," said after the meeting, "Things are not moving in the right direction." Some liberals "can't believe a senator who no longer considers himself a Democrat" – Lieberman – "is in the position of effectively vetoing a key part of the health reform bill."

Some Democrats and progressive activists are already calling to punish Lieberman, though party leaders have so far deflected those protests, though Politico quotes a "perplexed" Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., as saying: "Sen. Lieberman, it's my understanding, proposed a similar measure [a] few years ago ... So I'm not sure why he's having a hard time with it today" (Brown and Raju, 12/14).

Los Angeles Times: "Several leading liberal lawmakers on Monday appeared resigned to the collapse of their dream of including either a new government insurance plan to compete with private plans or the proposal to expand Medicare. 'There's enough good in this bill that even without those two, we've got to move it,' said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who succeeded the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as chairman of the Senate Health Committee" (Levey and Hook, 12/15).

The Boston Globe: The Medicare plan "negotiated by a set of senators last week, appeared to be foundering before it even received a detailed public vetting, and more questions than answers swirled around Senate deliberations yesterday." Senators said Monday they still awaited a report expected Tuesday or Wednesday from the Congressional Budget Office, which would also review both the Medicare idea and a plan – "far less objectionable to moderates" – to allow the federal government to negotiate with private insurers to offer national, nonprofit plans (Wangsness, 12/15).

Related KHN story: Ten Experts Weigh In On Plan To Replace Public Option In Health Bill (12/14).

Bloomberg: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, refused to give any details about what will end up in the final bill when he spoke to reporters after last night's meeting. He and fellow Democratic leaders expressed confidence that they would round up the votes needed to pass legislation soon. One possibility is that they may "win over Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, the only Republican in the chamber to vote for any health-care plan so far" (Litvan and Jensen, 12/15).

CongressDaily: What's next? "Democratic leaders have estimated the Senate, in the face of an expected GOP filibuster, would need to six to nine days for three cloture votes and a vote on final passage. That means Reid must file cloture this week to set up passage before Christmas. Senators and aides said they expect a cloture filing this week if CBO returns a score today" (Edney and Friedman, 12/15).

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