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Scott Brown was #41; Harkin Says Health Care Deal in Place Before Massachusetts Election

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Tom Harkin said that negotiators had reached a deal on health care shortly before Scott Brown threw a wrench into it by winning that Senate election in Massachusetts. This is further than anyone has been willing to go before; we knew that a deal was reached between labor and the White House on the excise tax on high-end insurance plans, but we did not know that all elements of the deal was settled as well.

Harkin said “we had an agreement, with the House, the White House and the Senate. We sent it to [the Congressional Budget Office] to get scored and then Tuesday happened and we didn’t get it back.” He said negotiators had an agreement in hand on Friday, Jan. 15.

Harkin made clear that negotiators had reached a final deal on the entire bill, not just the excise plans, which had been reported the previous day, Jan. 14.

Harkin said the deal covered the prescription-drug “donut hole,” the level of federal insurance subsidies, national insurance exchanges and federal Medicaid assistance to states.

Senate Democratic aides declined to confirm Harkin’s account. A White House spokesman also declined to comment.

Do you think anyone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue wants those three months back when Max Baucus and the Gang of Six set out on a fools errand hunting for Republican support?

Kevin Drum sees a silver lining here, that there exists a pathway amenable to everyone that merely can be accomplished by the House passing the Senate bill, and the additional fixes done in a reconciliation “sidecar.” But he adds, “Why this isn’t happening is a mystery.”

No it isn’t. There are several major stumbling blocks where reconciliation simply won’t work. The biggest one is abortion, though the design of the exchanges doesn’t seem to be a real good fit for reconciliation, either. But the abortion issue is the one that doesn’t have a sidecar fix where the votes are probably consequential. Nobody has yet figured out how to overcome the dozen or so Stupak followers who would vote against the entire bill if Ben Nelson’s compromise on abortion services funding remains. Jim Moran seemed to hint at a deal on that front, but with the Senate composed as it is there doesn’t seem to be a good way to accomplish it. Basically you’re talking about a stand-alone deal affirming the Hyde Amendment and banning coverage on the exchanges. And if that is the only path for passage of the entire bill, don’t expect Republicans, even those who are virulently anti-choice, to help out with that. They don’t have much of a problem voting against things they supported in the recent past.

The best word you can use to describe all of this is FAIL.

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David Dayen

David Dayen