Lawmakers At Health Reform Crossroads

As Senate health bill consideration approaches a critical point, Majority Leader Harry Reid has taken ownership of it, The New York Times reports. "Should Mr. Reid shepherd the measure successfully through the Senate and meld it with the House version into final legislation that President Obama can sign, it would be the biggest accomplishment of his career." If he fails it would be a hard defeat for Democrats and him, especially when he faces a tough re-election campaign at home in Nevada (Hulse, 11/19).

In his effort to shore up Democratic support, The Associated Press reports that "Reid has included at least $100 million in Medicaid funds for Louisiana in his health care bill at the same time he is trying to persuade that state's wavering Democratic senator to cast a pivotal vote for the overhaul legislation. Landrieu "is among a handful of senators who have not said what they will do when Reid holds a showdown vote on beginning debate on the legislation Saturday night." Landrieu said the money is important to her decision but won't determine her vote. She said the extra money "would provide her state with $300 million and said even that amount would not be all the funds Louisiana needs" (Fram, 11/19).

Bloomberg: "The additional money is intended to adjust the percentage of federal payments to Louisiana for Medicaid to avert a scheduled cut in U.S. assistance in 2011 for the program, which provides medical care for the poor. Louisiana had a bump in per capita income from the post-Katrina construction boom, which would force the decline in federal aid." Reid's office wouldn't comment (Rowley and Jensen, 11/20).

In the meantime, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., is joining Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in threatening to filibuster a final vote to pass the Senate bill, Roll Call reports. "While Lieberman's objection centers primarily around the measure's creation of a public insurance option, Nelson said on Thursday that a public option, abortion language and other issues could cause him to vote with Republicans to block the bill from passing at the end of weeks of debate" (Pierce and Dennis, 11/19).

In Radio Iowa, Sen. Tom Harkin expressed his pleasure with the Senate bill. "Harkin says he's pleased the measure puts a new emphasis on wellness and prevention, 'so that we keep people well, rather than treat them once they become sick'" (Kelley, 11/19).

And on the House side, The Hill reports on the role House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has had in advancing health reform. "[B]eginning in June, when other House leaders were still focused on passing a climate change bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was beginning his quest to ensure that a very ideologically diverse caucus and a definitively liberal leadership met somewhere in the middle on a bill to reform healthcare. ... In the end, 39 Democrats voted against the House bill, 24 of them members of the Blue Dog Coalition. Just three more defections would have sunk the bill" (Allen, 11/20).

The Hill, in a second story: "The Rev. Jesse Jackson's public rebuke of Rep. Artur Davis has injected race into a healthcare debate marked by disputes on immigration, abortion and euthanasia." Davis is the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the Democratic health-overhaul bill. "We even have blacks voting against the healthcare bill from Alabama. You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man," Jackson said. Davis is more conservative than other Congressional Black Caucus members, and most Democrats. He is now running for governor of a conservative state, and subsequently "drifted further to the right" (Soraghan, 11/19).

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