ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee approved its version of health care reform this morning on a 13-10 party line vote. With 60 Democrats in the Senate, this partisan bill is the building block that will find its way to the Senate floor.
The HELP Committee bill includes a public health insurance option and requirements for individual and employer contributions. Senators on the committee spent three weeks considering and amending the bill. The committee officially considered 287 amendments. 161 of those that came from Republicans were accepted, while 36 of the amendments were from Democrats. More than 500 total were filed. The amendments, most offered by Republicans, led Sen. Chris Dodd, who is steering the HELP Committee in the absence of Sen. Ted Kennedy, to say, “While this is not a bipartisan bill, it is a bipartisan effort.” Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the ranking Republican on the committee, disagreed. Enzi said the committee should scrap the bill and start over to achieve a bipartisan bill that could gain support from Republicans. Anything less, he said, will ultimately be rejected by the country. “The bill lays the groundwork for a government takeover of health care, creating a government-run health plan that many Americans would be forced onto, and giving Washington bureaucrats the power to ration health care,” Enzi said.
“This can’t be a bill put together just by one side,” he added just before the vote.
Republicans have also decried an expansion of Medicaid envisioned by Democrats. They say the real financial brunt of such an expansion would fall on the states, which share the cost. In addition to creating a public health insurance option and mandating that individuals purchase insurance and employers contribute to it, the bill enacts sweeping changes to the delivery system and would force insurance companies to insure people regardless of pre-existing conditions. It creates a “gateway” for low-income Americans to purchase insurance with federal subsidies. Families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level would qualify for some level of subsidy. What it lacks is a way to pay for health care reform. Those talks continue behind closed doors at the Senate Finance Committee. “We will have to make an investment to achieve these results,” admitted Dodd after the vote. And the details on how to pay for that investment, which will necessarily include some sort of tax increases, either on the wealthy, insurance companies, or union workers with gold-plated benefits, are some of the most contentious. While the HELP committee opted for a partisan, public process, the Finance Committee has worked in a more bipartisan fashion, but behind closed doors. And those negotiations have yet to come out into the open.
A bill proposed by House Democrats would place a surtax, up to more than 5 percent, on families making more than $350,000. Today, Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee decried that tax.