September 13th, 2009
06:52 PM ET
3 years ago

Two senators say House health-care proposal is dead

Sen. Harkin, who took over a key Senate committee after Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, said Sunday that the Senate's health care bill will have a strong public insurance option.
Sen. Harkin, who took over a key Senate committee after Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, said Sunday that the Senate's health care bill will have a strong public insurance option.

(CNN) - More and more, a possible compromise on how to overhaul the nation's ailing health-care system is taking shape.

Senators from both parties provided further clues Sunday to the potential form of a final agreement on the partisan issue that has sparked a heated nationwide debate, including last week's unprecedented heckling of President Barack Obama in Congress.

Two prominent senators said Sunday that a House health-care bill drafted by Democrats and vehemently opposed by Republicans and conservatives is dead. The senators - Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - said on Fox News Sunday that any chance for a health-care overhaul focuses now on a compromise bill being negotiated by members of the Senate Finance Committee.

Another senior Demoratic lawmaker on Sunday promised that the Senate's health-care bill would include a public option that would have support from "some" Republicans.

"The bill - mark my word, I'm the chairman - is going to have a strong public option," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who recently fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Harkin was speaking to a supportive crowd at his annual steak fry fundraiser for Iowa Democrats.

Meanwhile, a moderate Republican senator considered one of the few who might cross the aisle to support health-care legislation being pushed by Democrats said she rejects a possible compromise provision - a trigger mechanism that would bring in a government-funded public health insurance option in the future if initial reforms fail to achieve specific thresholds.

Republicans unanimously oppose the public option as an unfair competitor that would drive private insurers out of the market, which they say would bring a government takeover of health care. Democratic supporters reject that claim as misinformation, saying a non-profit public option would be one choice for consumers who also could sign up for private coverage.

"The problem with the trigger is it just delays the public option," Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told CNN's "State of the Union," explaining that the people who would determine whether creation of a public option gets triggered would be those who "want the public option."

The health-care debate entered a new phase last week with the return of Congress from its August recess and Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress last Wednesday.

Public concern, and in some cases outright hostility, over Democratic health-care proposals dominated many town hall meetings during the recess. Obama's speech presented his most detailed outline of possible legislation so far, but also produced an attention-grabbing moment when Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted "you lie" at the president.

Much of the anger focuses on a Democratic proposal, HR 3200, that was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July and includes the public option, higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and other provisions opposed by Republicans and conservatives.

Obama's proposal, outlined in his speech, is similar to the compromise measure being negotiated by the six members of the Senate Finance Committee - three Republicans and three Democrats, including Conrad. The focus on the work by the negotiators, who expect their bill to be taken up by the full committee on Sept. 21, prompted Conrad and Graham to declare the House health-care legislation moot.

"It looks like the House bill is dead," Graham said. "It looks like all the action is now in the Senate."

Conrad agreed, saying "the only thing that has a prospect of passing" is the compromise that he and the other Finance Committee members are negotiating.

Conrad has proposed creating non-profit health insurance cooperatives as an alternative to the public option. Obama cited the approach as a possible middle-ground in his speech to Congress.

Graham, however, said Obama and Democratic leaders still are trying to do too much, too fast by proposing legislation that will cost $900 billion over 10 years. He rejected Obama's assertion that about half the costs can be covered by reducing fraud and waste in the government-run Medicare and Medicaid programs.

"No one's found them before," Graham said of such savings. "The only way you're going to find them now is to do something no one's been willing to do and that is to go in and change the system."

On the possible trigger mechanism for public option, Collins answered "no" when asked Sunday if she could support it. The idea was first proposed by her fellow senator and moderate Republican from Maine, Olympia Snowe, as a potential compromise for Republicans and moderate Democrats concerned about a public option.

Snowe, who is one of the six Senate Finance Committee negotiators, said Sunday on the CBS program Face the Nation that the proposal under consideration doesn't contain a trigger provision.

"It's not on the table, and it won't be," Snowe said. "We'll be using the (cooperatives proposed by Conrad) as an option at this point, as the means for injecting competition in the process."

However, moderate Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana signaled her potential backing for a trigger provision, telling the ABC program This Week that she could "support potentially a fallback, but only if the private sector is allowed and given a great opportunity to get this right."

Obama and the Democrats have enough seats in both the House and Senate to pass a health-care bill without Republican support, but want some Republican votes to try to ease the partisan divide. Landrieu and other moderate Democrats in both chambers are considered the most crucial votes necessary to get a bill through Congress.

The next step is for both the House and Senate to pass bills in coming weeks, leading to a conference committee with members from both chambers who would negotiate a compromise proposal. Both the House and Senate would then have to approve the revised measure to send it to Obama for signing into law.

Snowe said the goal was producing a bill that could win support from Republicans as well as Democrats. She criticized what she called the "unfortunate and disgraceful" heckling by Wilson as a detriment to reaching a bipartisan agreement.

"I've served 16 years here and I've never witnessed that," Snowe said, later adding: "... Frankly, if there was more civility, we perhaps could get more done for the American people."

Wilson apologized last Wednesday for what he called inappropriate behavior, but maintains that Obama was wrong in saying his health-care proposal would not provide free health insurance for illegal aliens. On Sunday, Wilson said he won't apologize again on the House floor as demanded by House Democrats, who are threatening to censure him.

–CNN's Chris Welch and Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

Updated: 6:52 p.m.


Filed under: Congress • Health care • Kent Conrad • Lindsey Graham • Susan Collins • Tom Harkin
soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. Tired of the blame game...

    Government has become big business. Lots of money, lots of power...and abusing all of it. At the end of the day...right or left, they all belong to the same "Country Club!"

    If Congress really wanted reform....Why not offer every Americans the same health care plan they have? How about the same retirement plan?

    Mmmm....

    September 13, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  2. Voted4HealthCare

    Conrad is another bought-and-paid shill for insurance companies, instead of the American people he is SUPPOSED to represent.

    ALL other House and Senate committees have passed bills for our health-care reforms, as they were elected to do. This worthless "Gang of 6" should NOT be allowed to obstruct the process any longer. It is obvious too many of them (Baucus, Conrad, Grassley and Enzi) are in the pockets of the insurance lobby. Enough.

    Americans need these Health-Care Reforms with a public option supported by the majority.

    September 13, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  3. RRRUSA

    If all this does shake out this way........A compromise is not a defeat for Obama....if a compromise gets this needed reform passed, then it actually is a victory for Obama! A bill that both parties would support would be the most desirable, that way no one can use it in the next elections against the other party, and all the senators and representatives might actuall y care about what is IN the bill!

    September 13, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  4. James

    This is not rocket science. We need to do something to get health care under control. I think we as a nation should draft a letter to all in Congress and the Senate and just simply state do what is needed or leave we will all vote someone else in and try again. These politicians on both side are more concerned with keeping the seats than they are in representing the people that put them in the seat to begin with. I say let each state do there own thing if you are a republican state you can do nothing and keep what you thing] k works and if you are a democratic state make the changes you want and try to prove your point. When the plan that works emerges the others will follo\w.

    September 13, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  5. Big Blue Dog

    Go, blue dogs, go we are you behind you all the way.Hope pelosi does not get her way, nor ole harry.Time for them to find a new way to make a living.

    September 13, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  6. annie s

    The fact that our so called "moderate" Democratic lawmakers have squandered the chance for true health care reform is pathetic – but not surprising. Our politicians really don't care very much about the citizens of this country, they care about their campaign funding. What this proves to me is that all elected officials should be limited to one 6 year term. Then, and only then, might they actually do what is good for the country.

    September 13, 2009 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  7. Brian from Seattle

    Health Care Reform will pass this year. We are still in the final stages, and much can happen before the president signs the bill.

    September 13, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  8. Jeanne in Michigan

    Why don't we START with tort reform for frivilous law suits (not major ones) which are rampant everywhere, ask McDonalds. It's a sad mentality in this country that no accidents are ever going to happen and if one does, someone has to pay. Fall off a sidewalk, sue the city, fall in a store while galking, sue the store. Next deregulate the insurance industry so they have to compete nationwide like car insurance. Competition automatically brings down rates. Have a low cost catestrophic policy that lower income people can buy which includes an annual office visit or two and this available through employers who are able to band together for good rates. There are so many things that can be done that don't involve an incompetent government monopoly. If a national public policy goes through, there aren't enough tax dollars anywhere to pay for all this spending now or ever. We are trillions in debt people.

    September 13, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  9. Average

    I don't know why everyone blames insurance companies and corporations for the failure of public options.Everyone that I have talked to is against it and they are everyday working folk. Maybe thats why they are against it, they work for a living and don't like seeing their tax money go to those who won't.

    September 13, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  10. Kent in CA

    Only the public option, or the trigger, will incentivise the insurance compnies to do right by the consumer. The co-ops won't have the clout. The Senate should stop playing around. They do not need 60 votes. The need 51. Put it to the floor and let the GOP filibuster. Let the Republicans bring the United States Senate to a standstill in their brazen support of corporate greed. Then in 2011 the Democratic party will easily have the 60 votes.
    It it time the people took control of this process away from the lobbyists and their well-funded 'tea parties'.
    Stand up for what is right. Do not allow yourselves to be manipulated by those who want nothing more than the last dollar in your pocket.

    September 13, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  11. Right Leaning Independent

    Tom Harkin just does not get that the MAJORITY of Americans are opposed to the public option. We are for sensible health care reform – not the reform he is suggesting!!

    September 13, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  12. ding dong

    Why some fear the public option.....its not why theyre tellin you the truth.

    The Public Option engages the mechanisms for accountability.....it is core to the idea of reform and reform is toothless without it." feel free to use these words, Accountability is what we're talkin about, who's guarding the guards....Public option is the most efficient. From the rooftops

    September 13, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  13. Nadeem

    Fanstastic news! There needs to be apublic option to keep the insurance companies honest.

    September 13, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  14. Sam Sixpack

    The only health care "reform" that will come out of this is you will be required, by law, to hand over your hard-earned cash to fat, greedy insurance executives.

    September 13, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  15. jonas mayer

    With Republicans bought and paid for by the insurance industry and the Democrats bought and paid for by lawyers it's hard to imagine will get any serious health care reform any time soon.
    I love this country, but I hate the fact that big business has a strangle hold on our political system.

    September 13, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  16. No Public Option=Blackwater Reform Inc.

    Public option=accountability

    No public option, might as well let Blackwater run the "reform show".

    Truth to power
    Truth to the ignorant
    Truth to the People

    September 13, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  17. texasgreenacres

    THE only thing worse than announcing death, before it happens is dead.is dead weight.how long will it take to eject these two idiots

    September 13, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  18. Hugo

    Great, let's bury it with Teddy and get to the job of fixing what is truly wrong and broken with healthcare!

    Tort law reform
    Decrease existing insurance company regulation while initiating new regulation that actually makes and promotes competition.
    Modified pharmaceutical patent regulations with decreased patent lives.
    Enforce our immigration laws with sanctions against Mexico for costs.
    Enforce our laws in pursuing medicaid and medicare fraud.
    Tax credits for private citizens insurance premiums.

    Less bureaucracy leads to decreased consumer costs, government agencies are the referees in the game to keep it fair, not the players! We are where we are because they continue to fail the American people and not do what they were elected to do!

    September 13, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  19. John

    Easy for Senators to say the House version is dead. Not surprising, but easy. Let's see what both the House and Senate actually pass, then work toward a compromise – not the "my way or the highway" approach so popular in the Senate with Republicans and, unfortunately, some Democrats who act more like Republicans.

    As to Wilson – well, I have nothing to say, as he is a man undeserving of any attention of any kind whatsoever.

    September 13, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  20. Mandy

    Sen. Wilson should not have to apologize at all for what he said. If it were just one political party slandering the other, then that would be a different story. Obama needs to realize that his socialist healthcare plan may benefit a very small group of Americans, but right now our focus should be on our economy. Getting more people more jobs, period.

    September 13, 2009 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  21. joe m

    the irony would be if the defeat comes at the hands of democrats themselves. one wonders if only the dems had accepted the nixon proposal if they would already have what they are still fighting for today.

    September 13, 2009 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  22. Julie

    Ok congress people, let's stop the stupid posturing and grand-standing and get down to work. Each party needs to put all their ideas on the table and "civilly" discussion each option's good and bad points and what will work best for ALL Americans. The time to end the kindergarten games and bullying is past. Grow up put your big people clothes on, and get some meaningful work done please!!

    September 13, 2009 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  23. JP

    Obama said in his speech "This is the hard part. This is when the special interests the insurance companies .....". I guess the trial lawyers are not a special interest. Oh sure he did mention tort reform but gave short shift to the issue. Lets see who comes out better if he passes a bill the paxpayers or the greedy trial lawyers.

    September 13, 2009 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  24. Proud American

    Sad day in Americans when Republicans would rather watch it's citizens die instead of helping them get the care they need. I say the careers of these Idiots should die.

    September 13, 2009 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  25. Texas Liberal

    Now is the time to compromise. PERIOD.

    September 13, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
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