Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Health Care Bipartisanship Fades

Tom Williams/Roll Call
From left: Democratic Sens. Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski, Jeff Bingaman, Chris Dodd and Tom Harkin touted their health care reform efforts at a Tuesday news conference. Dodd will oversee the first health bill markup starting Wednesday.

As Senate health care negotiations enter the final phase at the committee level, Democrats are emphasizing their own policy preferences and conceding the unlikelihood of attracting significant Republican support for the legislation.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to begin marking up its health care reform bill today, with the Senate Finance Committee set to act next week.

Leading HELP Committee Democrats on Tuesday bluntly stated their lack of interest in passing bipartisan legislation that fails to adequately overhaul the system.

Republicans are almost unanimous in their opposition to implementing a government-run, public insurance option as a part of reform, with Democrats nearly equally supportive.

“Nothing would make me happier than to have us come out with a strong bipartisan bill, and I begin the process with that goal in mind. Not to achieve bipartisanship and a weak product, but to have a strong product that’s endorsed across the political divide,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), the No. 2 Democrat on the HELP Committee. “If we get through this process and all we’ve done is driven up costs and moved the deck chairs around, we’ll be indicted.”

Dodd is leading the HELP Committee in the absence of Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is battling brain cancer. The HELP Committee unveiled its bill last week; the Finance panel could release the details of its legislation any day.

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who champions the bipartisan approach, wavered on exactly how much Republican support would emerge for the bill being written by his committee.

Baucus, who has worked closely with Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for several months, insisted Tuesday that the legislation would “pass the bipartisan smell test.”

However, disagreement over the public plan option has grown into an obstacle overshadowing whatever agreement there might be on other aspects of reform. The cost of an overhaul — and how to pay for it — are also extremely contentious issues.

With most Democrats committed to including a robust, government-run insurance component in the reform legislation, the Senate majority is now angling to pass a transformative bill that can attract a few Republicans.

“The leadership is interested in the possibility of getting a bill that can get some Republicans while still delivering what Democrats want,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said. “I don’t think huge [Republican] buy-in is at all feasible.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made clear Tuesday that he is among the Democrats who support the public plan.

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