Health Care Analysts Discuss the Bill

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - March 18, 2010

JIM LEHRER: House Democrats got down to dollars and cents on their health care reform bill today, and President Obama dropped plans to go overseas, so he could stay and lobby for votes.

"NewsHour" congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic leaders unveiled their so-called reconciliation package today. It encompassed changes to the bill the Senate passed last December.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the house: There is more affordability for the middle class in the legislation, in the reconciliation package that we will pass.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Congressional Budget Office reported the bill would cost more than earlier versions, about $940 billion over 10 years. But the CBO said it would cut more from the deficit, about $138 billion, through 2019, and another $1.2 trillion in the following decade.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

REP. STENY HOYER, D-Md., majority leader: This bill is the biggest deficit reduction bill that any member of Congress is ever going to have the opportunity to vote on.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Pelosi said the substitute plan posted online this afternoon will curb the growth of Medicare costs and make Medicare solvent for an extra nine years. And it eliminates a special Medicaid funding deal in the Senate bill that applied only to Nebraska.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: We didn't like the state inequities as a category, and this bill corrects the state inequities by making the Medicare -- excuse me -- Medicaid reimbursements more fair to all of the states.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Democratic leaders said the cost estimates and other features gave them additional momentum to push ahead with a Sunday vote on the overhaul legislation.

But Speaker Pelosi was still working to drum up the 216 votes needed to pass it.

REP. BARON HILL, D-Ind.: That moves me a step forward.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Baron Hill of Indiana is one of the undecideds. He said today's report was a step in the right direction.

REP. BARON HILL: I'm encouraged about the numbers on the deficit, $1.2 trillion in the second 10-year period, and the $130 billion in the first 10 years. So, that's even better than what the House and the Senate passed out. So, I'm pretty happy about the numbers.

QUESTION: So, will be voting for it?

QUESTION: Will you be voting yes?

REP. BARON HILL: Well, I haven't -- I need to see the final version before I commit to it. I want to make sure that we have crossed every T. and dotted every I. before I make it.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Republicans dismissed the CBO Report. House Minority Leader John Boehner said they would continue working to defeat the health care bill.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, house minority leader: They can tweak this thing and tweak it. Still, it's a trillion dollars they're going to spend. We have made clear that it's time to scrap this bill and we would start over on commonsense reforms to make our current health care system better.

But, no, they are going to continue to ram, ram, ram this bill through the Congress, every kind of scheme known to man, to try and get it through the Congress without a vote.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans tried and failed today to block any effort to let the House pass the changes it wants without ever actually voting on the less popular Senate bill.

For his part, President Obama welcomed the cost figures out today. He said the health care legislation will be the most significant deficit-reducing effort in more than 20 years.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is but one virtue of a reform that will bring new accountability to the insurance industry, and greater economic security to all Americans. So, I urge every member of Congress to consider this as they prepare for their important vote this weekend.

KWAME HOLMAN: Later, White House officials announced the president has postponed his trip to Indonesia and Australia until June.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said that, while Mr. Obama had been scheduled to depart on Sunday, he's staying to continue his lobbying effort.

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: The passage of health care reform is of paramount importance, and the president is determined to see this battle through.

KWAME HOLMAN: Both White House aides and Democratic leaders talked optimistically today of getting the votes they need. They didn't say how close they are.

JEFFREY BROWN: And for a closer look at the bill's costs and savings, I'm joined by Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress. She served as a senior adviser for the Obama administration at the Department of Health and Human Services until last month. And Gail Wilensky, economist and senior fellow at the Project HOPE Foundation, she served in Republican administrations and on Medicare payment commissions. She also sits on the board of the insurance company UnitedHealth Group.

Welcome to both of you.

First, let's start by helping people understand what the CBO report is.

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