WSJ: Dems Could Split Bill, Use Reconciliation

Last month, in a conference call with liberal bloggers, President Obama made clear that he was open to using the reconciliation process to lower the vote threshold in the Senate for healthcare reform from 60 to 50. Now it appears that very strategy is being seriously considered:

The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes.

[...]

In recent days, Democratic leaders have concluded they can pack more of their health overhaul plans under this procedure, congressional aides said. They might even be able to include a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers, a key demand of the party's liberal wing, but that remains uncertain.

Other parts of the Democratic plan would be put to a separate vote in the Senate, including the requirement that Americans have health insurance. It also would set new rules for insurers, such as requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. This portion of the health-care overhaul has already drawn some Republican support and wouldn't involve new spending, leading Democratic leaders to believe they could clear the 60-vote hurdle.

Per Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid, who reported the story for The Wall Street Journal, there is a better than even chance that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, working in consultation  with the Obama administration, will move forward in this regard -- passing the easier parts of healthcare reform in normal order, and passing the more difficult parts using the budget process. In such a case, the Democrats could afford to lose as many as 10 votes in the Senate (including that of Ted Kennedy, who has not been seen in the Senate for months) while still enacting the more contentious portions of reform, namely a public option.

This, of course, is a trial balloon, and it's not yet clear that the Senate will move forward in this regard. But it is most certainly a positive development for the cause of reform to see Harry Reid, Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic leadership taking a harder stance to gain a stronger bargaining position.

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[updated] Obama's townhall is Montana

I just finished watching Obama's townhall in Montana. It was informative in what was said explicitly and what was implied. Again this is my personal opinion and I am sure many people will dissect it over the period of a the next few days.

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Senate Dems Hit GOP for Lack of Health Plan

Take a look:

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Health Insurance Reform Passes Thru Key House Ctee

But I thought everything was tied up in Congress...

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday night approved the Democrats' healthcare reform bill, setting up a floor vote this fall.

The passage of the legislation came after days of intense negotiations between Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and conservative Democrats as well as liberal Democrats.

Per The Hill, the final vote in the committee was 31-28, with five Democrats joining with every Republican on the panel voting no.

It's hard not to see this as anything but a major coup -- for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman and, of course, President Barack Obama. The establishment media may have bought into the notion that health insurance reform is bound to fail, just as it has in the last several dozen Congresses since Harry Truman ran on universal coverage in 1948. But inch-by-inch, vote-by-vote, reform is moving through the Capitol as the nation moves closer to a universal healthcare system.

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Sebelius warns insurers on denying coverage to sick kids

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to the head of the insurance industry's lobbying arm yesterday warning against efforts to continue to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Excerpt from the letter, which you can download as a pdf file at Greg Sargent's blog:

Health insurance reform is designed to prevent any child from being denied coverage because he or she has a pre-existing condition. Leaders in Congress have reaffirmed this in recent days in the attached statement. To ensure that there is no ambiguity on this point, I am preparing to issue regulations in the weeks ahead ensuring that the term "pre-existing condition exclusion" applies to both a child's access to a plan and to his or her benefits once he or she is in the plan. These regulations will further confirm that beginning in September, 2010:

*Children with pre-existing conditions may not be denied access to their parents' health insurance plan;

*Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to insure a child, but exclude treatments for that child's pre-existing condition.

I urge you to share this information with your members and to help ensure that they cease any attempt to deny coverage to some of the youngest and most vulnerable Americans.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent Sargent the following statement:

The intent of Congress to end discrimination against children was crystal clear, and as the House chairs said last week, the fact that insurance companies would even try to deny children coverage exemplifies why the health reform legislation was so vital. Secretary Sebelius isn’t going to let insurance companies discriminate against children, and no one in the industry should think otherwise.

Let's hope this works. I wouldn't be surprised to see insurance companies challenge the new regulations in court.

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