More Intra-Dem Disputes Roil Health Reform Waters

The powerful Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Henry Waxman said today that the U.S. House nor the White House are bound by the three deals that the Hospitals, Pharma and the AARP have made with the U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.

As the WSJ reports:

Some Democrats are questioning the recent $80 billion deal between the Senate Finance Committee, the White House, PhRMA and AARP.

On Wednesday morning, Henry Waxman, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is working on a health care overhaul, went a little farther than that.

At a breakfast sponsored by the National Journal, Waxman was asked whether the White House is giving up too many concessions to industries in order to get a bill passed.

And Waxman went on to say:

“Why that should be anything that should bind us is unclear. The White House is not bound. They tell us, they’re not bound by that agreement. We’re not bound by that agreement. The White House was involved and we were not.”

The White House confirmed that the deals were made by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, and declined to dispute Chairman Waxman, even though Vice President Biden announced the hospital deal today.

Hours later, AP ran a story titled (no surprise) “Disputes put health care timetable in doubt” which states:

“I think the ultimate goal is to have a bill by the end of this year” that is signed into law by President Barack Obama, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in an interview with The Associated Press. He said Democrats would make “every effort to stick to the timetable” that included initial Senate action by August.

Essentially, the Democrats have pushed all their chips onto the table and are sticking with the public plan option.  Chairman Waxman told ABC News House Democrats will not budge on a Public Plan Option.  And the Democrats have said repeatedly they do not need any Republican support.  Further, the White House is sticking with the public plan was confirmed by the White House Chief of Staff to liberal Democratic House members who visited him to discuss this very point.

This means, of course, that the stakes are much higher for the doctors, the business lobby and the insurers.

In addition, Chairman Baucus has had not only the major financing components of his plan rejected by his Democratic colleagues — they also have rejected his strategy to attempt to craft a bi-partisan deal.

Therefore, escalation of the health care battle is now underway. 

There are two key reasons for this:

One, the obvious success of the campaign is running to keep the public plan in the bill.  (This means that others whose industry depends on success will start down the same road, using the same tactics.)

Two, the move to escalation is accelerated by the fact that those who have been counseling “make a deal” have been discredited by the White House backing away from the deals made with the Senate Finance Committee, and Chairman Waxman openly being contemptuous of them.

The general dissing of Chairman Baucus by others in his Party also raises serious questions about what role Chairman Baucus will play in the coming weeks.  Will he simply adopt the U.S. House bill and its financing mechanisms?

As far as those who made a deal with Chairman Baucus, do they feel double-crossed?  If so, by whom?  The White House?  The other Senate Democrats who have publicly rejected Senator Baucus’s strategy and financing plans?

If you cannot parley with the Democrats, what does that leave? 

It leaves tactics.

Chairman Waxman may have just taken the industry attack dogs off the leash.  After all, those counseling war have just seen their stock rise because of’s success, and because of the non-deal-deals.

Even the hospital deal that Chairman Waxman said that both he and the White House were not bound by had its own intra-industry tension.  According to the Associated Press:

The [hospital deal] announcement at the White House sparked its own share of controversy.

Public hospitals and children’s hospitals, which serve many low-income patients, said such cuts would harm local communities. The National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems and the National Association of Children’s Hospitals, which were not directly involved in the talks, said in a joint statement: “Such reductions could severely damage safety net providers if not carefully crafted.”

“This is essential funding that supports trauma centers, burn care units and medical training,” said Melissa Stafford Jones, president of the California Association of Public Hospitals.

Just like T. Boone Pickens’s found out, details (like the power transmission lines for his $2 billion order of wind turbines) matter.  And now he has abandoned his wind power plan. 

Combine the obvious tension between Democrats, and the recent polling data from Stanley Greenberg, and you could have a slow but steady unwinding of this effort, especially if some of the industry groups begin to adopt tactics, as events seem to be encouraging them to do.


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