Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Healthcare Reform Wars: Obama Strikes Back

In our last episode it appeared that forces from the Republican Senate had put an end to President Obama's chances to pass meaningful healthcare reform this year. Many called the House and Senate bills DOA for further consideration. We all watched President Obama demote healthcare reform as his top domestic priority and relegate it to a position well under jobs and the economy.

But those closest to this insisted all along that the issue was not dead but rather dormant while the strategy for passage was being reworked. Many of us were hopeful that there would still be meaningful healthcare reform, but that it would be a slower, more inclusive process to allow for more input. The major concern was to not allow input to paralyze the process and leave us with nothing. After all, despite personal beliefs and political leanings, everyone must admit that the current economics of rising healthcare costs are heading us toward disaster.

Now it appears that the President's conciliatory tone of the last two weeks may again be taking a back seat to his threat to force a bill through. This in my opinion is the mistake he made the first time and it appears that he is making it again. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the House has the option to essentially pass the current version of the Senate bill to make a law without any further Republican input. The President is using an option very similar to this. He is slightly modifying the current Senate bill to remove some of the more controversial features. This process is called reconciliation and means that the revised bill only needs a simple majority in the Senate and not the 60 vote supermajority needed to block filibuster.

Although the new plan sticks very close to the original Senate bill, the good news is that it has addressed some of the negative issues. The sweetheart deal for Nebraska that drew so much ire is gone. The new plan also delays enactment of his tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance plans. It also does away with the unpopular "doughnut hole" in the Medicare prescription drug program.

So the president is again threatening the Republicans to work with him for a meaningful plan or he will once again shove through a plan with no Republican support. This is the context under which both sides will be meeting tomorrow to work out a bipartisan compromise. Good luck!

Here is a message to both sides: We need healthcare reform ASAP but more importantly we need it to be done right.

More on this later

Mark Brodeur

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