January 15th, 2010
02:35 PM ET
4 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
argument."

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. Voted4HealthCare

    Good. I may not agree with everything in the bill (never really do in politics), but it is a step in the right direction for health care.

    This legislation is simply too important to allow the obstructionists in my xGOP to derail the bill to maintain the Republican status quo. Not an option.

    Health Reform Now for the American People

    January 15, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  2. Think long and hard.

    If this farce of a bill goes through, I will never vote for a democrat again. They have proven time and time again it's what they want, not the American people. Elitist snobbery at its finest.

    January 15, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  3. Susan Rutledge

    America needs to wake up!! We need health care overhaul desperately, so that everyone has equitable access to medical care and services. Health care reform should be paid for equally by states and the federal government. In fact, many Americans who do not pay attention, do not realize that in additin to Medicaid & Medicare, the government also uses tax payer dollars to fund TRICARE- a military insurance program for active, guard, and reserve military members.
    Congress and lobbyist have used scared tactics on both sides of the health care issue to breed fear and ignorance in the American public. If we are not willing as a nation to overhaul the health care system and help all citizens, then why are we spending our taxpayer dollars on health care for our Senators and Representatives? These are the same men and women whose health care we pay for everyday, and yet we're told that it's socialism to in some way nationallize a system that is not equal, that is seperate but seemingly equal, and cumbersome at best.

    January 15, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. Me

    This is very scary.

    January 15, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  5. Bedtime for Obonzo

    "Health plans covered by union contracts would not be subject to the 40 percent tax until 2018." Another back room pay off to a Democratic special interest group - the unions. So there's this, the Cornhusker Kickback, $$$ for Louisiana, etc. And God only knows what other deals are being made that we poor ignorant taxpayers haven't been made privy to. What happened to Obonzo's pledge, repeated at least 8 times on videotape during the campaign, that all health care negotiations would be televised live on CSPAN? Guess that became uh, uh, uh, uh, too transparent.

    January 15, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  6. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but....

    All of this petty politicing is contrived to keep us divided into us and them. It's just a distraction so that the people don't realize that global capitalism is busy stripping wealth from the working class and the rapidly diminishing middle class and concentrating it in the hands of the few. They use the illusions of participatory democracy, the "free" market and social mobility to keep us docile while the Wall Street puppeteers pull all the strings. It goes without saying that the media is complicit in all of this. They are just as easily bought as our politicians (on both sides of the aisle). I take solace in the fact that such a system is, ultimately, doomed to collapse. Perhaps this will be the decade where people finally realize how badly they're being used. Or perhaps not. Keep maintaining the status quo, fellow consumerbots, and your situation will be even worse at the end of this decade than it is now. I guarantee it. Have a nice decade!

    January 15, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  7. Willy Brown

    So many losers in one place.

    January 15, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  8. Steve (the real one)

    Not that it matters (but its an opportunity to comment). Hey liberals, take a good look at that picture! A sea of white faces, where's your outrage?

    January 15, 2010 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  9. Bobbie

    If this health care reform legislation is so darned good, why aren't the members of congress going to participate in it? If it's so great for the rest of us, why do they get to keep their own plan?! How can they force all of us into the program, but not them?! Isn't this the very reason we fought the revolution? Ok for the'commoners' but not the 'royalty' on the hill?!

    January 15, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  10. Bob in Pa

    Deal with your walking papers dudes.

    January 15, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  11. Mississippi Mrs.

    THIS CRAPPY LEGISLATION IS COBBLED TOGETHER WITH OLD GUM AND SHOELACES.

    January 15, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  12. independent turning republican

    This is the most dishonest group of legislators we have ever seen in this country. They are forcing a bill through that will affect EVERYONE in America–a bill that is opposed by over 60% of the population.

    They are bribing unions, states, reps, doctors... at the citizen's expense. I hope all that vote for this bill lose in the next election.

    January 15, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  13. demwit

    Yeah! It doesn't matter how many get paid off!!

    January 15, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  14. susie

    This is why Democrats will be voted out of office.

    January 15, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  15. Really, Obama?

    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."

    ----------–

    "something that Washington has been talking about?" Obviously people THEN did NOT care what "Washington was talking about" - and they do NOT care now.

    We the people care and want what is best for US– NOT what Washington wants.

    When will you ever get that?

    January 15, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  16. ThinkAgain

    Pass it now – get it done!

    January 15, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  17. ThinkAgain

    Pass it now – get it done! Americans want meaningful health care reform!

    January 15, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  18. joec

    Anybody who thinks logically that this health bill is going to save money is a complete and utter idiot. For insurance companies to knowingly take people with pre-existing conditions or excluded conditions could only increase premiums. Doctors are already refusing to take Medicare because of slow payment and low reimbursement rates. There is no question that government is trying to pass a bill of goods to control and tax more of the Americans. More people will not be able to afford health insurance and this allows the IRS the ability to penalize those people without insurance. Subsequently America will become an even bigger welfare state with higher taxes for the working and free healthcare for the unmotivated, under privelidged, and scourge of society. Notice that I didnt say disabled, handicapped or anyone else with legitimate reasons for not be able to take care of themselves.

    January 15, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  19. good-bye global warming

    So the democrats are going to ram through a bill, despite the fact that now a majority of the people are against it? The reason for the urgency is the dems know they're going to get spanked in the mid-term elections. I can't wait for November!

    January 15, 2010 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  20. indy

    Well, the Unions got what they wanted. Apparently the only bullies are those lobbying for things the administration doesn't believe in. The unions are the latest example. As far as I can tell, this bill is full of payments that would constitute extortion if people were approached in the private sector. I just want the Democrats to admit that they were willing to buy every vote needed to pass this bill. Why should any state get more than another? Why should salaried employees be taxed for benefits that union members aren't? Talk about unfair! Do they think there aren't lower level employees that get these benefits? I hope it costs Democrats a ton of votes in November. It couldn't happen to a nicer group led by Congresswoman Pelosi and Senator Ried. May they both be sent to retirement in their home states!

    January 15, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  21. whybs on twitter

    1. The U.S. truly needs Health care reform!
    2. Bipartisanship is lip service.
    3. The GOP has not offered a single viable comprehensive health care bill!

    Either of the Congress/Senate bill (even without public option) is more comprehensive than anything the GOP has put on the table in the last 40 years!

    Talk is cheap!

    If needed, sock it to them with reconciliation!

    January 15, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  22. unconstitutional

    THIS STINKS!! Why should unions get different treatment?

    January 15, 2010 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  23. Mike Syracuse, NY

    How can immigration status have no effect on the cost of the bill? If illegals are covered it will cost more, period. The real reason for the rush is that on Tuesday MA will elect it's first Republican Senator since 1972. What a wake up call for Democrats nationwide. Obama is doing to them in one year what it took Bush 8 to do. Both houses of congress will shift in 2010 elections, and Obama will be a lame duck for 3 years.

    January 15, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  24. Dodd Democrat...

    Then we Democrats will have to PUSH to throw all of them out of office for pushing through this piece of trash Bill that only rewards the Insurance companies.

    Democrats are NOT happy and we will vote to get rid of every Democrat that voted for this Bill.

    Obama doesn't care because he has 3 years left.....so he is throwing every other Democrat running in 2010 under the bus.

    I hope they wake up and smell the roses...........

    January 15, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Boy oh boy, the dems are running scared because they are about to lose Kennedy's democratic senate seat to Brown!!!! Wise up, people – that version of the so-called reform is NOT in our best interests.

    January 15, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
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