Liberals Push Obama on Government-Run Healthcare
(NEWSMAX) WASHINGTON – House liberals pleaded with President Barack Obama on Friday to push for the creation of a government-run healthcare program as the Senate’s chief negotiator said he won’t wait much longer for Republicans to compromise amid dwindling chances for a bipartisan bill.
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., held a nearly two-hour teleconference with his small group of negotiators, who call themselves the “Bipartisan Six.” Afterward, Baucus was careful to leave the door open to a long-sought deal, but he clearly signaled the time has come for him to move ahead.
“I am committed to getting healthcare reform done — done soon and done right,” Baucus said in a statement. He is considering making a formal proposal to the group of negotiators.
Obama, meanwhile, tried to placate disgruntled House liberals who fear he is too eager to compromise with Republicans and conservative Democrats to get a bill. In a phone call from the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat, Obama spoke to leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other liberal-leaning House groups.
Caucus leader Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said the lawmakers expressed their commitment to creation of a government-run plan to compete with private health insurers. On Thursday, they sent Obama a letter saying they could not support a health bill that lacked such a public option.
Woolsey said Obama listened, asked questions and said the dialogue should continue. She said a follow-up meeting will occur next week at the White House. Another participant said the president was noncommittal about the government-run plan.
Senate Finance is the only one of five congressional committees with jurisdiction over healthcare that has yet to produce a bill. Baucus had held back from convening a bill-drafting session, hoping that his group of three Democrats and three Republicans would reach a compromise behind closed doors that could win broad support. But he faces a Sept. 15 deadline from the Democratic leadership — and the prospect of losing control of the legislation if he doesn’t act.
On Friday, Baucus said the members of his group agree on several big-picture items, including the need to control costs, provide access to affordable coverage for all Americans and ensure that healthcare fixes don’t add to the deficit. The negotiators have been working on a pared-back bill that would cost under $1 trillion over 10 years and drop contentious components, such as the government-sponsored insurance plan that liberals insist must be in the legislation.
“Health reform is certainly a significant challenge, and each time we talk, we are reminded just how many areas of agreement exist,” Baucus said.
The bipartisan group has scheduled a face-to-face meeting when the Senate returns on Tuesday, on the eve of a major speech by Obama to Congress. The president is trying to rescue his healthcare overhaul after a summer in which angry critics filled the Internet and airwaves with attacks, some clearly based on misinformation.
Senate aides say the six Finance Committee negotiators realize they have an historic opportunity to influence the direction of the healthcare debate — and its ultimate result.
But with Republican leaders solidly opposed to Obama’s approach, the GOP negotiators are under tremendous pressure not to cooperate. In the last few weeks, two GOP negotiators — Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming — have made harsh public statements about the Democrats’ approach. However, both insist they are serious about their negotiations with Baucus. The third Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, has been circumspect.
“When Congress returns to session next week, we will be working with the same intensity … to achieve a consensus bill,” Snowe said in a statement. “I believe we must reduce the costs of healthcare and make coverage more affordable for all Americans.”
The other two members of the group are Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
Separately, the Democratic National Committee on Friday released a new television ad that counters Republican claims that lawmakers plan to raid Medicare’s budget to finance coverage for the uninsured. Obama says wasteful Medicare spending will be reined in but won’t affect benefits.
The Democratic ad, called “No Friend to Seniors,” depicts Republicans as longtime opponents of Medicare. It will run on national and Washington, D.C., cable stations. A similar ad will also run in 10 Republican-held congressional districts.