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Health care debate

GOP presses campaign against Democratic health reform

McCain seeks to strip Medicare out of bill

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GOP officials on Sunday talk shows stressed their belief that health overhaul goes beyond tax and fiscal issues usually reserved for the budget reconciliation tactic. Meanwhile, House Democrats indicated they expect a successful vote on a bill.

USA Today: "Republicans and Democrat hit the Sunday talk shows today to debate whether a complex congressional process called 'reconciliation' should be used to consider a major overhaul of the U.S. health care system. Reconciliation is normally used for 'taxing and spending and reducing deficits,' said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., speaking on ABC's This Week. 'There's never been anything of this size and magnitude and complexity run through the Senate in this way.'"

MSNBC has a transcript of NBC's Meet The Press, where White House health care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle said: "The healthcare reform has already passed both the House and the Senate with not only a majority in the Senate but a super majority, and we're not talking about changing any rules here. All the president is talking about is, do we need to address this problem and, and does it make sense to have a simple up or down vote on whether or not we want to fix these problems? "

Politico: "On the verge of a procedural fight over health care, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican's presidential nominee in 2008, said Sunday that he plans to introduce legislation that would prevent Congress from changing Medicare through a process that only requires a simple majority in the Senate. 'Social Security cannot be considered in reconciliation,' McCain said on NBC's 'Meet the Press,' referring to a rule established in the 1970s by veteran Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). . . . Democrats are trying to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare to pay for their health care bill, something that wouldn't be possible under McCain's proposal."

Roll Call reports that Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.,  (D-N.D.) "said on CBS' 'Face the Nation' that it would be unreasonable and impossible to use reconciliation for the broad overhaul of health insurance reforms, but those have already passed the Senate. The reconciliation package 'would be very limited,' Conrad said, dealing with items such as affordability credits and Medicaid expansion. Conrad said that is consistent with past reconciliation bills, including ones creating the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and COBRA insurance.”

In another story, Roll Call notes that McCain also "said the insurance industry and drugmakers had benefited from 'cynical deals' designed to draw their support for the legislation. 'These were unsavory deals ... done behind closed doors,' according to McCain. . . . DeParle, the president's senior health care adviser, pointed to critical advertising campaigns by insurers as a sign that they had not been bought off with any deals. 'I'm not sure what he's talking about with deals with insurance companies,' she said on 'Meet the Press.'"

The Hill: "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Sunday that the House must pass the Senate bill before fixes to both bills can be approved. Hoyer is the highest-ranking House Democrat to outline that path forward, which is perceived as a critical concession to Senate Democrats. 'Whether we're willing or not, we have to go first if we are going to correct thing that the House disagrees with,' Hoyer said on CBS' 'Face the Nation.' The Maryland Democrat's comments provide one of the clearest illustrations yet of how Democrats will proceed to pass their healthcare reform overhaul."

The New York Times: "The future of President Obama's health care overhaul now rests largely with two blocs of swing Democrats in the House of Representatives – abortion opponents and fiscal conservatives — whose indecision signals the difficulties Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces in securing the votes necessary to pass the bill." Pelosi is in "the tough spot of trying to keep wavering members of her caucus on board, while persuading some who voted no to switch their votes to yes – all at a time when Democrats are worried about their prospects for re-election."

"Representative Dennis Cardoza, Democrat of California, typifies the speaker's challenge. . . . His wife [a family practice doctor] 'comes home every night,' he said, 'angry and frustrated at insurance companies denying people coverage they have paid for.' But as a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, Mr. Cardoza is not convinced that Mr. Obama's bill offers the right prescription. It lacks anti-abortion language he favors, and he does not think it goes far enough in cutting costs."

USA Today:  "With each passing day it gets more difficult for the Democrats to pass health care. Literally. Today, Rep. Neil Abercrombie's retirement takes effect as the veteran Democrat devotes his full time to running for governor of Hawaii. Abercrombie voted for the House bill, so that's one more 'yes' vote that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won't have if she hopes to pass health care using reconciliation. Pelosi has lost three 'yes' votes since Nov. 7. The others: Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who died Feb. 8, and Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., who resigned Jan. 3 to become the head of the nonprofit Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. The House vote last time was 220-215, so Pelosi will need to convince some of the 39 Democrats who voted against the House bill to vote for the Senate bill."

Fox News:  "Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the funding elements of the [health care] bill won't balance spending the way Democrats assert. The Congressional Budget Office's claims for a $132 billion reduction in the deficit over 10 years is based on its inability to strip out aggravating details, he said, but much of the legislation that would be passed through reconciliation involves the double-counting that sends the package into the red. 'The legislation that's been put in front of them is full of smoke, mirrors and gimmicks' . . . he said."

Reuters: Still, the bill's supporters said Democrats will be able to come up with the votes in the House to pass it. "'When we start counting, the votes will be there," Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz told NBC's 'Meet the Press.'" DeParle also "she believes 'we will have the votes to pass' the measure" if the Democrats decide to use reconciliation. 

The Washington Post : "Washington interest groups have burst back into action in hopes of bolstering or defeating a new Democratic push on health-care reform legislation, sparking another wave of rallies, lobbying efforts and costly advertising campaigns. The fresh round offers a clear signal that the industries and advocacy groups most likely to be affected view the coming weeks as the final battle in determining whether Democratic proposals become law. . . . Reacting to President Obama's recent statements that he will move ahead with legislation, health insurance companies have enlisted hundreds of lobbyists in a full-court press against the proposed overhaul, which would force dramatic cuts and increased regulation on the industry."

"Pharmaceutical lobbyists are also targeting Obama's plan. . . . The National Right To Life Committee – which strongly opposes the Senate version of the health-care package – has launched its own grass-roots campaign to pressure dozens of antiabortion Democrats in the House . . . liberal activist groups, meanwhile, are rallying with their own efforts in hopes of pushing legislation across the finish line. MoveOn.org, for example, said that a "virtual march" organized Tuesday bombarded lawmakers with more than 1 million pro-reform e-mails. . . . One glaring exception to the renewed activity is AARP, the 40 million-member seniors group ... A. Barry Rand, the group's chief executive, called on other groups last week to lower the temperature in the debate so that ‘compromise is possible.'"

In another article, The Washington Post: "Thursday's largely civil and intelligent summit underscored the deep philosophical gulf that remains between the two sides over health care (and many other issues). Both agree that the health-care system needs repair but significantly disagree over how to fix it. That is a genuine difference that seven hours of talking did not begin to narrow."

Meanwhile, in a different aspect of health care news, President Obama had a physical Sunday. The Associated Press reports the Obama's physician said the president “is in ‘excellent health’ and ‘fit for duty.’ . . . According to a White House release after the exam, [Navy Capt. Jeffrey] Kuhlman recommended that Obama ‘continue smoking cessation efforts’ and modify his exercise regimen to strengthen his leg muscles to overcome occasional pain from chronic tendinitis in his left leg. The report said Obama uses a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory for the tendinitis and ‘nicotine replacement therapy' – believed to be nicotine gum – in his bid to quit smoking."

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service. It is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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