January 15th, 2010
02:35 PM ET
8 years ago

Democrats push for health care deal by end of week

Democrats push for health care deal by end of week.

Democrats push for health care deal by end of week.

Washington (CNN) -Top Democrats continued marathon negotiations on a comprehensive health care reform bill Friday, hoping to reach final agreement on key provisions by the end of the week.

House Democrats received a pep talk on Capitol Hill from former President Bill Clinton, who made his own unsuccessful push for change during the 1990s.

"We just had a powerful, sensible wind blown beneath our wings" by the former president, said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-California. Democrats are ready to "do what the people of America have been waiting for."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, declared that Congress will pass reform legislation "in the near future."

Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House want to send the bulk of the revised health care package to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate as early as the end of the week, a senior leadership aide told CNN Thursday.

Hoyer, however, tried to address criticism of the rapid closed-door negotiations by promising Thursday that the final bill would be posted on the Internet for at least 72 hours before a final vote.

Democratic leaders are aiming to get the health care bill to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law before the president's upcoming State of the Union address.

Adding to the Democrats' sense of urgency is the possibility of a GOP upset in a special election being held in Massachusetts next week to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. A Republican victory would strip Democrats of their current 60-member Senate supermajority, which is necessary to overcome unanimous GOP opposition to the Democratic version of health care reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, insisted Friday that the Democratic timetable had not been changed by the suddenly tight contest in Massachusetts.

"We were on this course" regardless, she told reporters. "We're on the path that we have always been on, from a time standpoint."

Democrats are "moving forward," she said. "We're making progress. We're establishing common ground."

Democratic leaders took a major step forward in their push to craft a final bill on Thursday, when they cut a deal to exempt union health insurance plans for several years from a proposed tax on expensive policies, according to labor chiefs involved in the talks.

Organized labor, a major force in Democratic Party politics, has been vehemently opposed to the idea of imposing a tax on what are called "Cadillac" health insurance plans.

Obama, on the other hand, supports the excise tax as a way to contain spiraling health care costs. The tax was included in the health care plan approved by the Senate in December. The House of Representatives excluded the tax from a separate bill it passed in November.

Under the deal reached in talks that stretched until 1:30 a.m. Friday, the proposed thresholds for taxing health plans would be raised from $23,000 to $24,000 for families and from $8,500 to $8,900 for individuals, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters.

Dental and vision benefits wouldn't be counted toward that amount after 2014, he said.

Health plans covered by union contracts would not be subject to the 40 percent tax until 2018 - a transition period union leaders said is comparable to those offered to other private insurers. The threshold for taxing other plans will be adjusted by 1 percent above the annual rate of inflation, and plans involving large numbers of women or the elderly would get breaks as well, Trumka said.

The changes will reduce the $150 billion expected to be raised over 10 years by about $60 billion, he said. And union plans would be able to enter the health care exchanges set up under the bill in 2017, he said.

Union opposition to the tax on Cadillac plans, which is shared by many liberal House Democrats, stems in part from the fact that labor negotiators frequently traded higher salaries for more generous health benefits in recent years.

Trumka warned earlier this week that congressional Democratic candidates could risk losing labor's support if the final health care bill included the tax.

Labor leaders now argue the changes they negotiated would help not only union members, who make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, but all working families as well.

But Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, on Thursday dismissed the plan as "a sweetheart deal."

"Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to this bill," he said. "Another sweetheart deal isn't going to turn that around."

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Thursday found much stronger support for the financing plan in the bill passed by the House. The bill would impose a 5.4 percent income tax surcharge on incomes higher than $500,000 for individuals or $1 million for couples. The survey found 61 percent of the public favors the House provision, while the Senate bill drew 29 percent support.

Trumka told reporters that leading Democrats were behind the compromise. But Pelosi said she had not seen anything in writing Thursday evening.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, a leading opponent of the excise tax, said the proposal is more fair than the current Senate bill.

"However, the devil is in the details, and I will reserve judgment on any compromise until I have had the time to review the proposal," he said in a written statement.

Obama did not directly address the plan as he addressed reporters ahead of a House Democratic Caucus meeting Thursday night. But he dared Republicans to run in the November midterm elections on a platform of rolling back "something that Washington has been talking about since Teddy Roosevelt was president."

"If Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have. If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that

Controversial issues of abortion and immigration are not likely to be resolved before the CBO estimate, but because they would have no impact on the cost of the bill, negotiators could work out those details separately, the leadership aide said.

–CNN's Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh, Ted Barrett, Lisa Desjardins, Alan Silverleib and Matt Smith contributed to this report.

Filed under: Democrats • Health care
soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. gt

    why did they do this behind closed doors,,, creepy ....

    January 15, 2010 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  2. TexasJack


    January 15, 2010 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  3. Kevin in Ohio

    Ram it down our throats, you CRIMINALS! You can't afford to wait until Scott Brown becomes the 41st vote.

    January 15, 2010 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  4. David

    No one wants this crappy bill – if it is not good enough for members of congress than it is not good enough for the American people that you represent.

    January 15, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  5. Jim

    I've got my hopes up. health care reform has been somewhere on the agenda for many decades. it's time something happened.

    January 15, 2010 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  6. db

    This doesn't have anything to do with the upcoming special election in Massachusetts. It has everything to do with it.

    January 15, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  7. ICARE

    Good job! It may not be a perfect bill, but it's a start and it can always be improved..

    elephants = in love with scrooges = nothing for the people = we have seen in for the past 8 years.....=why do u WANT to repeat the same mistake?

    Bottomline, dont be stupid and put elephants back!! They aint going to change.

    January 15, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  8. Paul from Phoenix

    Nebraska has a special deal. Unions have a special deal.

    I am a non-union, middle class worker. I am getting totally screwed because I do not have a special interest person at the Dems table.

    Obama was supposed to bring change. Oops.

    January 15, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    Why is it that when the republicans spend us to ruin, it is for noble causes like: unnecessary wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest, breaks for the biggest businesses? When democrats try to do something for Americans, the republicans can it un American.

    Run to Rush you sorry right wingnuts.

    January 15, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. Wmscot

    It is about time !

    January 15, 2010 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  11. Fair is Fair

    "Democratic leaders are aiming to get the health care bill to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law before the president's upcoming State of the Union address."

    Translation – democratic leaders are rushing this through before Scott Brown gets sworn in as the new Senator from Massachusett(e)s.

    January 15, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  12. gt

    this picture looks like a group picture at sr retirement home,,, new blood now,,,

    January 15, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  13. Dan

    a bill of the big government, by the big government and for the big government... what about "the people"

    January 15, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  14. Jimmy James

    They want to rush this through quickly because the more we learn about it, the less we like it. It is a financial disaster and will hurt healthcare. Nice transparency. Hurry up. America has lost interest and doesn't believe in the Democrats or Obama anymore. They gotta ram it through. Just awful.

    January 15, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  15. Steph

    I'm laughing at the complaint of rapid closed-door negotiations. We've only been trying to fix our broken health care system for many, many decades. This current effort has dragged on far too long. Republicans have been invited in on multiple occasions and have decided they wanted to "kill the bill" so it would be "Obama's Waterloo".

    January 15, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  16. Jeremy in Albuquerque

    Go for it, Ladies and Gentlemen! Lay the foundation! I back each and every one of you. ALL Democrats in NM can count on my vote.

    January 15, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  17. Larry S

    What is wrong with these democrats and why are they not following what is desired by the people that elected them to office? This is an absolute stupidity and if anyone can give me reasonable sense about why you support these dorks, please do so with some actual facts and not 'talking points' of blaming others.

    January 15, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  18. U.S. Common Sense

    Can't wait to see the loaded package. Union handouts, bribes for Senators, give aways to others . . . this bill does everything BUT improve the health care system.

    January 15, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  19. TCM

    What a bunch of self-serving crooks...they're trying to rush this so Obama can try to claim some sort of "victory," for the American people, when in actuality, it's a victory for the liberals against the American people. It's tragic that we have this lowlife caliber in the White house and congress....

    January 15, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  20. TCM

    Take a good look at the photo....all of those faces will be replaced later this year. Kamakazi democrats.

    January 15, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  21. Mark L.

    Make It Happen, OH PLEASE, MAKE IT HAPPEN !! I would have still preferred HealthCare Reform Legislation WITH a PUBLIC OPTION to compete with the GREEDY, 'FAT CAT' privatized insurance industry CEO's, but nevertheless, I'll be HAPPY just to see this preliminary Bill PASS !! I'm quite certain a Public Option can be discussed later on, if necessary...DEMOCRATS – YOU'VE GOT MY SUPPORT (AND MY VOTES) IN THE UPCOMING 2010 & 2012 elections...No Question About It...{:o)

    January 15, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  22. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    Go democrats! Kick those worthless republicans who, once again, will be on the wrong side of history.

    January 15, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  23. Gee

    This whole thing is just so much crap.....the left accuses the right of being in bed with the insurance companies yet the insurance companies are the ones that are going to get rich in this travesty of a reform bill. Throw in the fact that mandating this from the Fed's is completely unconstitutional and over-reaches the power of the Federal government......time to fire the lefties and make some real reform.....

    January 15, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  24. mjm

    Democratic leaders took a major step forward in their push to craft a final bill on Thursday, when they cut a deal to exempt union health insurance plans for several years from a proposed tax on expensive policies, according to labor chiefs involved in the talks.


    So the lobbyists from the special interest group representing the unions was able to lobby the anti-lobby, anti-special interest democratic party and seal the deal for their interests.....behind closed doors.....without C-Span or the Republicans watching.......

    Good job.

    January 15, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  25. JMikey54

    Keeping my fingers crossed, please do not let America down.

    January 15, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
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