Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Health Battle Escalates

Both Parties Intensify Efforts

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, surrounded by reporters Tuesday after the Democrats’ policy lunch, has an aggressive timetable for health legislation.

The battle over health policy escalated Tuesday, with President Barack Obama promising reform would put thousands of dollars annually in the pockets of American families and Republicans countering that Democrats were leading the country down the road to medical rationing.

Senate Democrats huddled at the White House in an attempt to bridge intraparty differences on health care reform, with Obama wading ever deeper into the political fight to deliver on his signature domestic campaign promise. Republicans were not invited to the meetings, which were held amid rising tensions over the direction of health care reform within the Senate Democratic Conference.

Armed with a new administration report claiming a health care overhaul would equal $10,000 in annual income for an average family of four by 2030, Democrats emerged from a day of high-level meetings with a more focused message likening reform to economic recovery and future growth. Although not completely new, this communications strategy appeared to receive a new, pronounced emphasis.

“When you’ve got health care costs rising faster than the economy of your country, this is no longer unacceptable, it’s unsustainable, so we have no choice but to get this done,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), the No. 2 Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a participant in Tuesday’s White House meetings.

In a 56-page report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers titled “The Economic Case for Health Care Reform,” the Obama administration contends that overhauling health care will generate a jump in annual income of $2,600 for the “typical” family of four by 2020, with that increase hitting $10,000 annually by 2030.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans stepped up their rhetoric, staking out what they call a pro-health care reform position that is squarely against a government-run insurance option, commonly referred to as a public plan. That is likely to be a deal-breaker for Obama and most Democrats.

In a twist on their standard health care message that underscores their agreement with Obama and Senate Democrats on the need to lower costs and increase access, Senate Republicans argued that reform legislation must not diminish the quality of American health care, which they contend is among the best in the world. The word “rationing” is key to their rhetorical arsenal and one that they’re likely to constantly repeat.

Senate Republicans, realizing they don’t have the votes to stop a Democratic health care bill on their own, are relying on a strategy designed to win the public relations battle over defining what it would mean to create a public plan. By the time the Democrats introduce a bill on the floor, Republicans hope to have made it politically impossible to vote for anything that includes a public plan.

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