Negotiations get tough on health care

Can Harry Reid get health care through the Senate? it will be a very tough battle, as Roll Call points out in this excellent article summarizing the current state of the negotiations. Reid seems to be feeling the pressure from the liberals in his caucus, as he’s instructed Finance Chairman Max Baucus to stop trying to please Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday strongly urged Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill.

Reid, whose leadership is considered crucial if President Barack Obama is to deliver on his promise of enacting health care reform this year, offered the directive to Baucus through an intermediary after consulting with Senate Democratic leaders during Tuesday morning’s regularly scheduled leadership meeting. Baucus met with Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Tuesday afternoon to relay the information.

According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes; Reid told Baucus that several in the Conference had serious concerns and that it wasn’t worth securing the support of Grassley and at best a few additional Republicans.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Finance Committee began looking at ways other than taxing health benefits to deliver a health care overhaul that costs less than $1 trillion and is deficit-neutral, as Baucus wants. Baucus’ office declined to comment, but Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a key member of Finance, confirmed as much late Tuesday.

“I would say there’s a search for alternatives,” Conrad told reporters. “There’s been feedback. There’s been additional questions in terms of getting the votes and public support.”

I’m surprised to hear Reid taking such a tough stand, but Democrats are fed up with the bi-partisan approach. Taxing benefits is a bad idea, and they need to look for other ways to fund this. I’m in favor of taxing soda and other crap that big companies sell and market to kids. Would it kill us to pay a little more for pop?

Naturally, any push by the Democrats to get this done with a public option and without the support of Republicans will also make it more difficult for moderate Democrats to support the bill, but it was encouraging to hear Ben Nelson praise Reid’s efforts. Nelson is always a tough vote.

“Harry is the leader, and people certainly pay attention to Harry’s advice and leadership,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. “I’m sure he’s going to find a way to sell what needs to be done. … He’s very good at that, and I hope he’s able to do it.”

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