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. MJ

    Americans! Are you really understanding the catastrophic results of this so-called "Health Reform"? They have to push this through before the election in Massachusetts. So many under-the-table deals have been made. There is nothing going to stop them. How can we let this happen? Everything has been behind closed doors. Who really knows how many votes have been secured as a result. This is our Government at its worse.

    January 15, 2010 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  2. Obama ... worst President ever!

    It will never make it!

    January 15, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  3. Sea.gem

    They just sold more votes to the Unions and sold out the tax payer..AGAIN!!!...and want to vote on it before anyone can read the bill or check the math...AGAIN!!! The people are overwhelmingly AGAINST this bill but thiis is about LEftist ideology and nothing else...

    January 15, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  4. Paul in Arizona

    Stop trying to jam this flawed bill down our throats!

    January 15, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  5. Enough is Enought

    Why is it that groups that are harmful to the economy like unions and the trial lawyers get treated like royalty with favors and the taxpayer is treated like trash. Both groups suck the life blood out of the economy. Ever notice that states with the highest taxes have the a higher percent of union workers.

    January 15, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  6. Paul in Arizona

    Rushing to pass a bill that they know is flawed? Why? Take time, revisit this terrible version that most people don't want, and come up with something more reasonable and fair.

    January 15, 2010 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  7. Gary, Los Angeles

    And we will push them right out of their jobs!

    January 15, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  8. No More Incumbents

    72 hours for the people to review all the closed door giveaways and bribes. I can't wait to vote!

    This admin is the worst ever. The only thing that matters is making our celeb-in-chief look good at the State of The Union. Let me give you a hint Obama, the state of the union is abysmal, and getting worse.

    January 15, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  9. Rickster

    This band of gypsies, tramps and thieves know they have to move this thing quickly because if Coakley loses in Massachusetts it's sayonara, baby to their beloved socialized medicine bill.

    January 15, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  10. DAVID

    how long will it take for these morons to understand that the american people do not want what they are shoveling...... every poll shows nearly 60% are against the back room deals..... after the criminal deal that unions recieved from the biggest of all, the poll numbers should increase dramatically....against the bill..... so much for transparency that was promised............ this adminstration is a joke and for all americans who voted for Obama are hiding now..... democrats better make all the back room deals they need because if they wait too long, there super majority is gone next week.... Coakley will lose now that she is 2 points down today...... Brown will be the 41st vote and if bill is not done it is dead....... if it does pass, it will be repealed in no time....

    January 15, 2010 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  11. PL

    It gets messier and messier, all these secret meetings and deal makings. What happened to transparency, bringing changes to Washington from the way they do business, no catering to lobbyists, big businesses, etc etc. Our government is buying favors and support for a bill that less than half of the country feel is the right way to go.

    It looks fishy, unethical, shameful, and this coming from a president who ran on promises to do the right things for all Americans.

    More to come until the bill is passed?

    January 15, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  12. Jane wants the truth

    This is really not a "deal" when all has been done behind closed doors ~ contrary to the democratic process and the transparency and the elected officals actually REPRESENTING their constituents!

    Since when does the office of president "dictate" to the congress what should and should not be done!

    I will vote for anyone who is NOT a DemoNcrat!

    January 15, 2010 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  13. obama the liar

    these loons keep pushing for something that 60% of America doesn't want. it looks like the elections might bring them back to reality and learn that they are not gods.

    January 15, 2010 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  14. vmillerb4

    If this bill is sssooooo good, it can be read and re read in the light of day, a la the sunshine act before it's voted on. No need to rush or cram it down our throats!

    January 15, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  15. eric in texas

    Hurry kids, get this done. When the Mass. race is over and Brown wins, you lose your fillibuster proof majority.

    Hurry kids, only 36% of Americans approve of this bill now because they have seen it is full of holes and will cost alot more than you say.

    Hurry kids, time to show America what we all have known. That regardless of what the people want it is what Obama wants. And what the Messiah wants, we must get him.

    Shame isn't it. This isn't for the people, about the people or by the people. We are in a failing system of democracy that is a far cry from what our forefathers started. This healthcare reform will fail because of one major reason. THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT WILL RUN IT. They can't run ANY type of healthcare successfully. See VA funding, Medicare/Medicaid funding, etc. And yet 36% of Americans are stupid enough to think that this time they will succeed. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and thinking you will get a different result. Thanks for the change Obama. That is probably all that will be in my bank account when you leave office.

    January 15, 2010 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  16. GREG K

    This health care bill isn't the jewel I envisioned it would be, but it's still a good thing. Through the haze of anger, it is amazing how rabid republicans are willing to vote against their own health and best interests. They hang onto illusions of yesterday that no longer exist, with fear and anger. Simply amazing.

    January 15, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  17. we're not stupid...

    Great. About time.

    January 15, 2010 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  18. Mark

    It says above that immigration issues would have no impact on the bill????????????? Add 30 million illegals......who will pay for that?

    January 15, 2010 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  19. Ancient Texan

    The people can only hope this smelly, corrupt piece of legislation dies on the floor of the Senate. A total disgrace by the way it's put together with bribes and closed door, secret deals. The lawmakers will pay in November for ignoring and going head on against the voters. If this garbage is passed, it will bankrupt the Nation.

    January 15, 2010 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  20. terry,va

    A picture is worth a thousand words. Look at those fools!!!

    January 15, 2010 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  21. annie against biased news

    They have to rush the secret government rationed health care bill thru before the MA election.

    January 15, 2010 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  22. Dean

    "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."

    Too bad he isn't really aware of what the people of America really want. Our leaders are pathetic.

    January 15, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  23. Tom

    These thieving, conniving, unscrupulous, scheming dems are trying to push this through before they lose their senate seat in Mass. They know America is finally waking up and on to their lies. They are desperate to pass it by any means necessary. Isn't the transparency Obama promised refreshing? The kickbacks, bribes, and back door wheeling and dealing makes most Americans sick of the entire political process. Disgusting.

    January 15, 2010 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  24. liberal wingnut

    You mean cram it down America's throat!

    January 15, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  25. Mike in MN

    The Dems are in a panic to pass this bill. It is already a corrupt bill full of bribes and special deals for some states, government workers, labor unions and who knows who else. We don't know who else because all the deals are being made out of site of the public behind closed doors. Even Republican's in the House and Senate have no access.
    The panic to pass this will result in even more corrupt deals. If Brown wins the election in Mass on Tuesday, there will be an even bigger rush to get it passed before Brown can be sworn in. And the price to get the Blue Dogs votes will go up because of the increased fear they will have in seeing Brown win in liberal Mass.
    The whole process is a joke and the people do not want it. That is why Brown has a chance to win in Mass.

    January 15, 2010 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
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