Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Bipartisan Health Bill Gets Cold Shoulder

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (shown here) continue to plow ahead on a health reform package, turning a blind eye to a long-standing bipartisan measure by Sens. Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett.

“My reading of what is happening in the two committees is that in both cases we’re demonstrating that the present system is beyond jiggering,” Bennett said. “The present system isn’t working. ... If we start with Bennett-Wyden as the template for the debate — I’m perfectly open to people saying, ‘This part of it doesn’t work, that part of it doesn’t work, you have to change it.’ — but you see you’d be changing the new template instead of trying to jigger the current system.”

The problem is no one leading the efforts — not Obama nor Baucus nor Kennedy — wants to create a new system that might force some Americans to change their health insurance. Obama has repeatedly promised that whatever he signs would allow “Americans who like their doctors and their health care plans to keep them.”

“You know that mantra you hear Obama and everyone on earth saying — if you like what you have, you can keep it? Not under the Wyden plan,” said one senior Senate Democratic source. “All those happy Americans who like their doctor and their insurance plan? Not under the Wyden plan.”

Baucus said last week that he admires Wyden’s dedication to the subject but that he just can’t support the bill. Baucus spent last week working furiously to forge a compromise on his health care legislation, with stakeholders signaling they were getting closer to a deal.

“He’s never pushed it with me,” Baucus said. “I think the reason he hasn’t pushed it is because it has a fundamental flaw in that it would very significantly undermine the employer-based system. ... I can’t thank him enough for all the work he has put into this legislation, but that particular provision, I just think, is one that has flaws.”

Another Democratic Senator, who asked to remain anonymous, said Democrats did not reject the Wyden-Bennett approach outright but took a serious look at how it could work — particularly since it appears to pay for itself and comes with willing Republicans. But ultimately, this Democrat said, key players in the debate decided it was unworkable because it would dismantle the current system.

However, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of Wyden-Bennett, said Democrats who are driving the health care debate are unlikely to find true bipartisanship on the issue as long as they continue to try to push for either a government-run insurance plan or a co-op, which many Republicans believe is a back-door attempt at creating a public plan.

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