Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Confusion Over ‘Deal’ Continues

Senators Still Awaiting Details

Democratic Senators involved in crafting what Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) described as a “broad agreement” on health care policy appear to be at odds over both the policy proscriptions and the notion that they had even reached such a deal.

Though Reid announced late Tuesday that negotiations among a group of 10 liberal and moderate Democratic Senators had largely resolved the intraparty standoff over the public insurance option, participants in the group said their “agreement” had been mischaracterized and that they agreed only to send the proposal to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate, saying more information was necessary before making any firm decisions.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), a key centrist, said the group of 10 — of which she was a participant — felt they had to move forward with something. She said negotiators had hit a wall and needed CBO scores in order to determine whether any deal was workable.

“We worked very hard and we worked collaboratively to try to come up with solutions and listen to one another,” Lincoln said. “We got to a point where we couldn’t go any further until we got CBO scores. And so, all of the different ideas and things that were on the table — in order to move to something that was more final, we couldn’t get to without CBO scores.”

Similarly, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a liberal in the group, said the “general consensus” that was reached Tuesday night was more “to move the bill forward” given that Reid hopes to pass a package by Christmas and the CBO scoring process could take at least a week.

“We came to sort of agreement in principle ... and then everything does have to get rushed to CBO in order to finish this up in time,” explained Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), one of the liberal participants.

Several other Democratic negotiators were quick to push back against the notion that they had shaken hands on anything.

“I didn’t sign on to the agreement,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), another group participant.

“There’s no specific compromise. There were discussions,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said. “Until the package that was sent is scored, we really don’t even know what’s in it.”

Some of the reluctance to say a deal had been reached appeared to surround whether negotiators had agreed to any of the public insurance options that have been floated.

One source said the last sticking point in the negotiations was whether to include a provision that would allow the government to create a public option if private insurers decline to participate in a government-sponsored exchange. The source said it’s likely the group will send two of those “trigger” proposals to CBO — one that would be a national public option and one that would be state-based.

The underlying bill includes an exchange that would allow insurers to compete for uninsured and small business customers. But it appears the Democratic group sent the CBO a proposal that would allow the Office of Personnel Management to run the exchange as well as prohibit private companies from making more than a minimal profit.

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