Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, says the powerful Senate Finance Committee will vote on a sweeping health care reform bill next Tuesday. U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear that extending health insurance coverage to as many Americans as possible is his top domestic priority. But Republican lawmakers are still overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, saying it is too expensive and would expand the role of government in people's health care.
President Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate received some good news late Wednesday from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which put the total cost of the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill at $829 billion over the next decade. This was below President Obama's stated goal of $900 billion, and the budget watchdog organization also said the health care bill would help reduce the federal budget deficit over the next ten years. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared confident Thursday when he said health care reform is moving forward. "And so today we stand closer than ever to fulfilling that fundamental promise, one for which we have fought for more than 60 years," he said.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the rosy cost estimate was "irrelevant", because the final bill that will actually emerge from both houses of Congress is likely to look very different and cost a lot more. "What matters is that the final bill will cost about a trillion dollars, vastly expand the role of government in people's health care decisions, increase premiums and limit choice," he said.
In his floor speech, Majority leader Reid accused Republicans of opposing the health care reform bill for purely partisan reasons, with the aim of handing a stinging defeat to President Obama who has staked so much political capital on health care. "Just as Democrats believe in insuring quality, affordable health care for every American citizen, we believe equally as strong that this country has no place for those who wish for its leaders to fail," he said.
McConnell fired back, saying Democrats are more concerned about their own political glory than Americans' needs. "They are more concerned about their legacies than what the American people actually want. 'This is the moment." "Be a part of history." These are the kinds of things they say to each other about health care. Well here is an idea. How about asking the American people what they want instead," he said.
McConnell said Republicans favor a step by step approach to health care reform, focusing on prevention and wellness programs and dealing with the high costs of malpractice insurance doctors have to pay due to fears of excessive lawsuits.
Under the Finance Committee bill, Americans would be required to get health insurance or face a penalty and insurance companies would face tough new regulations. For example, insurance companies could no longer reject coverage for people due to pre-existing conditions.
The Senate Finance Committee is likely to pass the bill, which will then have to be merged with one passed by the Senate health committee before it goes to the full Senate floor for debate.
Meanwhile Democrats in the House of Representatives are working to merge three health care bills into one for that chamber to debate in the next few weeks.