Senate Dems Seek Compromise On Contentious Health Reform Issues

A leading Democratic senator, Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Sunday Democrats would need Republican support to make ambitious proposals to overhaul the health system a reality, the Associated Press reports. "Look, there are not the votes for Democrats to do this just on our side of the aisle," said Conrad, who chairs the Budget Committee. Democrats remain divided over the plans, prompting the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to say, "The only thing bipartisan about the measure so far is the opposition to it" (7/26).

Conservative opponents of the reform effort were pleased as the Senate bill stalled and lawmakers indicated that they would not vote until September, the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. The delay gives "both sides an entire month to whip up supporters," but there is general agreement that "the August break hands an opportunity to opponents, who can use the time to highlight specific objections" (Fram, 7/27).

The Senate bill is delayed in the Finance Committee, which has sought an agreement some Republicans could support, Politico reports. A variety of issues could make it more or less difficult for whatever emerges from Finance to attract 60 votes from the whole body. Topping the list of contentious issues are a plan for nonprofit insurance co-ops, an alternative to the government-run insurance plan touted by more liberal Democrats, and a plan to tax health benefits to pay for the overhaul (Budoff Brown, 7/27).

The tax on employer-sponsored health insurance, opposed by many Democrats including President Obama, gained new momentum Sunday as Conrad discussed it once again on ABC's "This Week," the New York Times reports. Separately, Obama adviser David Axelrod noted that the President may support taxes on certain, super-costly benefit packages, such as one awarded to senior Goldman Sachs bankers that rings in at $40,543 a year (Wayne and Herszenhorn, 7/26).

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is sidelined by brain cancer after pushing for reform for over four decades, the Los Angeles Times reports. At this difficult juncture for Senate Democrats, "He has made himself the poster child of what he calls 'my life's cause,' and is using his illness in a final press for universal healthcare," the Times says. In a Newsweek essay in the latest edition, he wrote, "We're almost there." Democrats seeking compromise feel Kennedy's absence sharply because "few senators possess the types of friendships that have brought Republicans to the table or the gravitas that holds the party rank and file in line" (Fiore and Levey, 7/26).

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