Left Claims 218 Votes in Sight

Published on
by
The Hill

Left Claims 218 Votes in Sight

by
Mike Soraghan

Liberal told House Democrats that they have nearly enough votes to pass their preferred version of health insurance reform.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the leader of the Congressional
Progressive Caucus, told a closed-door caucus meeting that the group's
"whip count" showed it had 208 of the 218 votes needed to pass what
liberals call a "robust" public option. That version would link rates
to Medicare plus 5 percent.

Woolsey would not confirm the 208 figure in an interview, but three sources in the meeting said that is the number she cited.

"I
said we have the votes to pass a robust plan," Woolsey said. "This is
without leadership stepping up and saying, ‘We're for this.' "

Woolsey
declined to provide a list of names to House Majority Whip James
Clyburn (D-S.C.), who has been tasked by leadership with keeping track
of where the votes are.

Clyburn told Woolsey that his
ongoing, informal tally doesn't show the liberals' version of the
public option having that kind of support.

"That's not the vote count he has," said Clyburn spokeswoman Kristie Greco. "We're not there yet."

But
any momentum liberals sensed early Wednesday was dampened after the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced its analysis of Sen. Max
Baucus's (D-Mont.) bill, noting that it would extend coverage to
millions of Americans while also cutting the deficit.

Blue
Dogs and other Democratic centrist are certain to note the CBO score as
proof that the House bill should hew more closely to the Senate Finance
Committee legislation.

Some House members, particularly
centrists, questioned Woolsey's 208 figure, noting that last Thursday
the Progressive Caucus presented Pelosi with only about 150 names.
Centrist Blue Dogs are infuriated by the continued push for a
government-run plan they believe the Senate will never agree to.

And
another Progressive Caucus source said the liberals' whip count, begun
last week at the behest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), found 176
solid "yes" votes, about 15 "leaning yes," 30 undecided and 23 solid
"no" votes.

The angst from the conservative and liberal ends
of the caucus is a sign that House negotiations are finally getting
serious and Pelosi is preparing to take the bill to the floor for the
final push.

"Buckle up," said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.). "It's almost game time."

In
the face of unified Republican opposition, Democrats are working to
find the 218 votes they need within their 256-member caucus. The public
option, which would compete with private companies to drive down costs,
has emerged as one of a few key obstacles to getting that number.

Liberals
want reimbursement rates for physicians to be equal to Medicare rates
plus 5 percent. Centrists, especially Blue Dog Democrats, don't like
the public option, echoing Republican concerns that it will not just
lower rates but put private insurers out of business.

Some
Blue Dogs have agreed to a modified public option that wouldn't be tied
to Medicare. Instead, federal officials would negotiate rates
individually with providers.

Ironically, though the Blue
Dogs' top issue is fiscal responsibility, the liberals' option saves
more money, $115 billion, than the Blue Dogs' negotiated-rate
compromise, which would save $25 billion more than having no government
plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Centrists say other
issues, like ensuring private insurers survive and correcting Medicare
underpayments in rural areas, are just as important.

Leaders
told members at Wednesday morning's meeting that they have brought the
cost of the bill to $925 billion with negotiated rates, the Blue Dog
compromise. They need to find another $25 billion in savings to meet
the $900 billion ceiling set by President Barack Obama.

So
leaders set out a number of options Wednesday morning to find that
savings, such as triggering Medicare-linked rates if negotiated rates
don't bring down premiums, or covering more people with Medicaid.

But
the new proposals generated a lot of questions, as well as irritation
from the most liberal and conservative members of the caucus. Woolsey
asked why leaders wouldn't just fight for their liberal version, since
it saves much more than $25 billion.

Blue Dogs are frustrated
that the caucus is still debating the public option, which they don't
expect to be included in the Senate health bill.

"The broader
caucus is still spinning its wheels and mired in the public-option
debate that many moderate Democrats don't believe survives in the
Senate or conference," said Blue Dog leader Rep. Stephanie Herseth
Sandlin (D-S.D.). "We are not giving the same kind of attention and
energy to the other things that really matter in this bill."

She
said Democratic leaders in the House and Senate need to join with the
White House to "pre-conference" a bill that can pass both chambers.

On
Thursday, the Democratic Caucus is expected to take up the issue of
taxes needed to pay for the cost of the bill, mostly premium subsidies
for low- and middle-income people.

The Senate Finance
Committee is working on a plan that would tax high-cost healthcare
plans. But 150 House Democrats have signed a letter opposing such a
tax, which is staunchly opposed by organized labor.

Democratic
sources say that Pelosi is sticking with a plan for a surtax on
individuals making more than $500,000 and families bringing in more
than $1 million, possibly coupled with a $20 billion tax on medical
devices. Last week, White House economic adviser Larry Summers
and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle presented a long list of other
possible revenue-raising measures to House leaders, such as a fee on
brand-name drug makers. Democratic sources said nearly all the ideas
were met with some form of opposition, except for limiting the size of
health flexible spending accounts.

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