Obama Tries To Bridge Democratic Divide On Health Reform

Speaking with Senate Democrats Wednesday, President Obama "suggested that Republicans could be enlisted to play at least some role in negotiating a final bill, The Washington Post reports.

Obama urged Democrats "to finish the job on health care" but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have yet to agree on a way forward "and many Democrats are irritated that the protracted haggling over health-care reform is overshadowing progress on other legislation." During the Senate Democrats' annual retreat,  "Obama brushed aside calls from party moderates to shelve health care reform at least until after the November midterm elections" (Murray and Kane, 2/4).

At the meeting with Obama where health care took the back burner to jobs creation, Senate Democrats questioned White House officials on the overhaul, The Hill reports. "Democrats expressed their frustration with the lack of a clear plan for passing healthcare reform, according to one person in the room. … Senators did not want to press Obama on healthcare reform in front of television cameras for fear of putting him in an awkward spot" (Bolton, 2/3).

In terms of strategy, Roll Call reports that Reid may be hoping to get more Senate Democrats to support moving forward with reconciliation to pass a bill, but so far, disagreement continues among party members. "Reid has personally asked his centrists to hold their fire on the possibility of using reconciliation for a health care fix, but several moderates recently told the leader that they do not think they could support a bill that makes hundreds of billions of dollars worth of changes to the $871 billion Senate measure, one Senate Democratic source said." Pelosi's desire to take out a proposed "Cadillac" tax as well as several other provisions from the legislation would likely require $300 billion in other offsets, which would be "painful," aides say (Dennis and Pierce, 2/4).

Sen. Max Baucus remains hopeful, however, that health care has a finish line, The Wall Street Journal reports. "'As we look back at the progress that we have made and look ahead at the short distance that we have yet to go, I remain confident that we can, before long, move to the stages of triumph and victory,' Baucus said" at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the budget with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Yoest, 2/3).

The Associated Press: "there were fresh signs Wednesday of greater skepticism among some rank-and-file Democrats. ... The Progressive Caucus in the House renewed its appeal for the so-called public option, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., circulated a letter in support of the idea that has attracted signatures from about 120 House Democrats." Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., said those lawmakers were "delusional" (Werner, 2/3).

Politico: "With the exception of Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson's 'Cornhusker Kickback,' which alienated independent voters and came to symbolize an out-of-touch Washington, none of the other narrow provisions that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inserted into the bill appear to be in any kind of danger as Democrats try to figure out the way ahead." Other deals that survive include a similar-to-Nelson's Medicaid deal with Louisiana, Massachusetts and Vermont and an exemption for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan on a proposed 40 percent tax on insurers who provide expensive health plans (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 2/3).

The New York Times reports that during yesterday's Senate Finance Committee budget hearing, Sebelius said she could not guarantee that negotiations over the health care overhaul would be more open than in the past because "'I am not a principal in the negotiations,' Ms. Sebelius said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee. 'Nor is my staff.' … Jobs and the economy have replaced health care as Mr. Obama's top priority, but Ms. Sebelius said passage of the health bill would help create jobs and save them" (Pear, 2/3).

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