More Health Care Tea Leaves From Harkin, Lincoln

photo: jodigreen via Flickr

photo: jodigreen via Flickr

Ezra Klein writes today that the blending of the two health care bills into one for the Senate floor will be a true blend – those issues where both the HELP Committee and the Finance Committee weighed in will result in one compromise or other, and other issues where only one committee addressed them will largely go with the approach from that committee.

However, a couple issues may have to be solved on the floor, particularly with respect to financing for the bill. On a conference call today sponsored by Families USA, Tom Harkin, the chair of the HELP Committee (but not the lead negotiator in the merging sessions, because Chris Dodd largely shepherded the bill through committee at that time) suggested that Democrats would modify the excise tax on high-end insurance plans, which only appears in the Finance Committee version of the bill, and that they may look at the House provisions to fund the bill, including a surtax on people making over $350,000 a year.

This would come as news to President Olympia Snowe of the United States of Maine, who wants all the money in the bill to come from inside the health care system. But Harkin believed that Democrats would look outside the system as well for additional financing, considering the excise tax too punitive on middle-class workers who may have given up wage increases for better benefits, or those with long-term chronic illnesses who need stellar coverage.

The tension here comes between lowering the excise tax and wanting to ensure affordability of coverage for all Americans; the two necessarily conflict. Ultimately, the money for subsidies has to come from somewhere, one of the major battles in the debate.

Later in the call, Harkin gave a nod of support to the “opt-out” compromise, while maintaining a preference for a nationally available plan. And he made the case for allowing the interests of the majority to take precedence over the interests of a few in the caucus:

There are 52 solid Democrats for a public option and only about five Democrats really kind of opposed to it… One has to ask if the 52 should give into the five or if the five should come on board with the vast majority. I think the answer is clear.

Blanche Lincoln, one of those five in opposition, threw some support behind triggers to local reporters in Arkansas today, though she didn’t even fully support that. Again, nobody asked her the key question – would she invoke cloture, even if the bill didn’t include everything she wanted.

…Lincoln has an online chat with constituents about health care scheduled for tomorrow. Details here. Maybe some readers would want to ask the Senator something or other.

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