Dems Build Reform Support As GOP Decides Strategy

Democrats and Republicans are looking for support in their own parties as health care reform promises to dominate the legislative agenda for the rest of the year, The Hill reports.

Democrats are even putting other work on the backburner as President Obama wants to get reform done before the end of the year. "The Obama administration put the Panama free trade agreement negotiated by the Bush administration on the backburner after dozens of lawmakers expressed their displeasure in a May 21 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)." Democrats are also delaying work on immigration and changing the military's "don’t ask, don't tell" policy on gays serving in the military.  The Hill says Democratic consultant Paul Begala believes that "Democratic fortunes in 2010 will be tied to the success of healthcare reform."

Meanwhile, Republicans "see an opportunity if the $787 billion stimulus bill ends up serving as the 111th Congress' pinnacle accomplishment."

"'If the stimulus bill (becomes) the focus for Democratic candidates in 2010, that creates more problems for swing districts and moderate Democrats,' Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in an interview. If voters weary of bailouts are worried about deficits, the stimulus cost could come back to haunt Democrats, though so far polls indicate Americans are hopeful about the economy and pleased with President Obama’s leadership on it" (Swanson, 6/1).

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, D- Vt., said Monday that a public insurance plan option in health reform is more important than bipartisanship, MSNBC reports. "Dean added that Democrats should have 'no intention' of working with Republicans if it's not the strongest possible legislation that could be passed with a simple majority."

Dean, who favors a carbon tax to pay for health reform, said Obama was being a realist on the plan and "'If Republicans want to shill for insurance companies, then we should do it with 51 votes,'" Dean said during a news conference at the first day of the liberal America's Future Now! conference (Montanaro, 6/1).

Republicans from all sides of the spectrum have their own ideas on health reform, making some GOP leaders uneasy, Politico reports: "What they don’t have is agreement — between the Senate and the House or between conservatives and moderates. Now some in the party are nervous that the array of options might add up to nothing, leaving Republicans without a cohesive strategy as President Barack Obama edges closer to delivering health care reform."

There are at least five iterations of health reform proposals that Republicans have started working on coming from Senate conservatives, House moderates, the House GOP study group, a group of physicians in the House, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee and the founder of the Congressional Health Care Caucus. "The multiple rollouts highlight the growing impatience some Republicans are feeling as Democratic negotiators move closer to producing a bill that has been decades in the making."

Democrats have their own divisions, according to Politico, but they have benefited from not releasing specifics. "The strategy allows Democrats to keep all the major interest groups at the table. This has created anxiety among Republicans, who have watched the weeks tick by and wondered if their party was missing an opportunity to define itself."

And Republicans are working to craft the "official" Republican proposal: "[House Minority Leader Rep. John] Boehner [R-Ohio] put his former No. 2, Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, in charge of herding Republicans on the critical issue. Since February, Blunt has organized weekly meetings with outside experts to help educate members on the intimate details of the country’s health care system. In April, his team started crafting the Republicans’ official alternative, with the goal of completing their work before Democrats bring their own comprehensive bill to the floor. … Members and aides both acknowledge that it will be difficult for [Republican] leaders to overcome the egos and ideological divides that dominate the conclave. Making things even more difficult, in their third year out of power, the Republicans’ minority status is still sinking in with some lawmakers who embark on negotiations like they are crafting actual legislation" (Brown and O'Connor, 6/2).

Politico reports in a separate story that Sen. Judd Gregg's own breaking of the Republican ranks in offering his own plan for health reform still further complicates unity efforts by Republicans. "Gregg’s blueprint swerved outside traditional Republican lines by proposing a requirement that individuals own health insurance. But at the same time, he rejected Democratic calls for a public insurance option to compete with private plans." Politico says his proposal is noteworthy because he is one of nine senators participating on bipartisan talks on a reform bill, and that he remains included in the bipartisan negotiations on another bill.  (Brown, 6/2).

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