Although White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki optimistically described an "emerging consensus on Capitol Hill" on Obamacare, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., interim leader of the Health Committee, suggested this week that a historic opportunity to expand coverage may be dimming — if GOP members continue to be coddled rather than bypassed.
Normally, Democrats have looked to majorities in the House and Senate to ramrod an agreement, but in the case of healthcare reform, moderate Republicans, as well as some fiscally conservative Democrats, are holding firm that President Barack Obama should focus on cutting costs — before getting artful in ways to pay for the ambitious new program.
In Dodd’s view, the grail of bipartisanship may have become counterproductive and a liability, according to a report in the Financial Times.
“Leadership is more important at this juncture in my view than bipartisanship,” Dodd said.
“In fact, bipartisanship almost reflects a lack of leadership; in trying to hide behind bipartisanship . . . We’ve allowed this to become the goal. At this juncture, we need leadership in the country.”
Meanwhile, in another indication of a breakdown in bipartisanship, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R- Utah, abandoned a meeting at the Senate Finance Committee, where Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has been negotiating to win over Republicans while catering to liberal Democrats.
“Right now, with some of the provisions in there, I just can’t do it,” Hatch said.
According to the Financial Times report, Dodd said: “At some point it’s going to be more important to get a product out there to advance the debate and discussion, and I’m fearful that we’re losing that opportunity by just sitting in and hoping we can get one or two people to agree to something – and at what price?”
Dodd’s bottom line concern: Democrats could be “losing the opportunity” to capture historic reform by spinning wheels in the race to capture Republican votes.
The internecine warfare aside, in his latest pronouncement on his administration’s number one priority, Obama optimistically maintained that he's “on track,” after his first six months in office, to fulfill his promise to sign a health care reform bill before the end of the year.
In the Capitol Hill trenches, however, fiscally conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans are balking at a plan that could cost $1,000 billion over 10 years to extend coverage to about 47 million uninsured Americans, according to the Financial Times.
Dodd is more pragmatic than optimistic like the president. He is wary that the push for healthcare reform may lose steam much the same way as Bill Clinton’s initiative did in 1993.
“These moments don’t come around every five minutes,” he said. “And having been here 30 years, you could well go another 30 to 40 years before coming to this moment again where you have a president, both houses of Congress, healthcare providers, hospitals, business people, all agreed that we need to do this – and you miss it.”
In the meantime, the lawmakers continue to grapple with the complexities of the bill, mulling 10 financing options, among a host of other devilish details.
When and if a final version gets cranked out, it most likely will include: Subsidies for lower income individuals to buy coverage A mandate on individuals to have insurance An exchange where people can shop for the best plan, a requirement that employers provide insurance or pay a fee to the government And a nonprofit insurance cooperative to compete with private insurers, according to a Politico report.
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