President Obama made it clear today that he plans to drive home his health care reform with the use of a relatively unfamiliar procedure created in 1974 to help lawmakers advance politically difficult budget legislation.
Although he did not mention the name of the procedure—reconciliation—by name, the president, in a speech at the White House, said he believes Congress “owes the American people a final vote on health-care reform." The speech was delivered to an audience of medical professionals.
The legislation, now stalled in Congress, "deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed and both Bush tax cuts—all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority," Obama said.
The programs mentioned in the president’s speech were passed under reconciliation rules, which would allow the Senate to approve a health care overhaul with a simple majority, rather than a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Republicans have been vocal in their opposition and vowed to continue to fight the tactic.
Nevertheless, Obama openly urged Congress leaders to schedule a vote in the next few weeks.
Flanked by doctors and nurses in white coats, the Washington Post reports the president as saying, "I do not see how another year of negotiations would help. Moreover, the insurance companies aren't starting over. They are continuing to raise premiums and deny coverage as we speak. For us to start over now could simply lead to delay that could last for another decade or even more. The American people and the U.S. economy just can't wait that long."
As of this writing, the America’s Health Insurance Plans had not issued a statement on the president’s speech.
The House and Senate each passed separate health care reform bills last year, but the unexpected election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts in January ended the 60-vote Senate majority won by Democrats in the 2008 elections, and ground the effort to a halt.
Last week, Obama held a bipartisan health-care summit in Washington with key lawmakers in an effort to break the stalemate. At that time, he reportedly urged Republicans to "do a little soul-searching" on measures they would accept to address the core problems of covering more than 30 million Americans without health insurance and requiring insurance companies to cover those with preexisting conditions. Republicans, meanwhile, ramped up their messaging the new proposed legislation represents a "government takeover" of health care, saying it needed to be tossed out in favor of starting from scratch with a "step-by-step" approach.
Under the White House strategy, the House would adopt the Senate’s version of the bill that was passed on Christmas Eve, and then approve a separate package of “fixes” to reflect a compromise worked out between Democrats in the both chambers.
Obama has said he is open to several different Republican proposals offered at last week’s health care summit, as long as they lower health costs while making coverage more affordable. According to the Washington Post, some of those proposals entail expansion of health savings accounts, permitting insurance companies to sell high-deductible policies through new state-run insurance exchanges, stepping up efforts to root out fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, funding state projects aimed at averting medical malpractice lawsuits, and finding a "fiscally responsible" way to increase payments to doctors who treat Medicaid patients.=
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