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Democratic Leaders Say Reform Bill Will Pass, With or Without GOP

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, October 28, 2009

Five of the Senate Democratic leaders who have been key in pushing through healthcare legislation created a united front on Tuesday on Capitol Hill—predicting in a news conference that Congress will pass a reform bill by the end of the year. This will be achieved, they declared, even if Republicans decline to go along with the legislative process to overhaul healthcare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who was joined by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), said the issue of "guaranteeing access to quality, affordable care transcends liberals, moderates, and conservatives.” They are still working on a bill that will be introduced on the Senate floor soon.

Referring to his announcement about a public option the day before, Reid said they all supported "the public option with the state opt-out as a wise path forward. Our public option isn't a left proposal or a right proposal. This is a consensus compromise that represents months of hard work and debate."

Rockefeller, a strong supporter of a public option, said Reid was "courageous" to include the option. "What you're struck by is the opportunity we have here to put the momentum for healthcare [reform] in the hands of the people who need it rather that the insurance companies who profit from it," he said.

Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which was the only committee to pass a reform bill without a public insurance option, admitted that the process followed "a really torturous route."

"This is not a public option bill. This is a healthcare reform bill—this is so massive," Baucus said. He admitted, though, that a fight is ahead to get the 60 votes needed to pass legislation.

One of the senators who might preclude reaching that number is Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who frequently votes along with members of his former party, the Democrats. Lieberman had said that he would not support a bill that contained a public option.

Calling Lieberman "his friend," Reid said that there "are a lot of senators—Democrat and Republican—who don't like part of what is in this bill that we sent over to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)." Reid predicted that Lieberman will work with them and have "interesting things to do in the way of amendments" when the bill gets to the floor.

Reid said he had hoped to see more cooperation from Republican members. "It would be nice if we had a Republican who would help us," he said. "When I came [to the Senate many years ago}, we had Republicans and Democrats work together. But [now] you can't dance if your partner is unwilling to get off the chair."


Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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