Health Care: Confidential

Sep 14, 2009 3:42pm

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf reports: A video postcard from the health reform debate on Capitol Hill:
The six senators hashing out a bipartisan health care reform bill in the Senate are so dogged by reporters it sent Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe down the fire escape after negotiations this morning. And you can’t blame her. The line of reporters pursuing lead Democratic negotiator Sen. Max Baucus after the negotiating session this morning goes on and on and on and on… One reason reporters are covering all the exits of Baucus’ office and crowding around the Senator when he leaves  is because the health reform legislation being hashed out here – the bill that has the best shot at bipartisanship – is being negotiated behind these closed doors, out of public view. An ABC News Poll this week shows most Americans (a whopping 71 percent) want Democrats to change their bills to make health reform more bipartisan. So these negotiations are extremely important to any possibility of a health reform effort. And it appears that if the people want bipartisanship, they’ll have to sacrifice access. The “Gang of 6″ as they call themselves, have kept their negotiations largely secret until they reach a backroom deal. Baucus released an outline last week, but not legislative language. A deadline has been set by Baucus for this week for his staff to release their final proposal even as the group of six senators grapples with how to curb medical malpractice cases, bar illegal immigrants from receiving benefits under the plan waits for a nonpartisan assessment of whether the bill will add to the federal deficit. When negotiations in other Congressional committees were out in public, things went far worse. Four Congressional committees – three in the House and the HELP Committee in the Senate — spent the Spring and Fall writing health reform bills in public in four committees. There were speeches and votes on amendments and at the end of the day several party-line bills. Public support for health care reform deteriorated when Congress was out of session during August amid the perception that Democrats had railroaded the process. And that is a cautionary tale for the bipartisan negotiators and Democratic leaders. Once (if) these bipartisan negotiators reach a deal, it will face its greatest tests when it comes out from the back room where the deal is struck, and into the light.

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