Dems Ramp Up Health Care Pressure on GOP

Dems Ramp Up Health Care Pressure on GOP

By Kyle Trygstad - October 7, 2009

While the Senate Finance Committee awaits a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office on Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) health care bill, Democrats are ramping up their efforts to build support among the American people and pressure Republicans to eventually back comprehensive reform.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Senate Democratic leadership focused solely on what they referred to as the Republicans' obstructionist efforts on reform.

"We feel comfortable that we're on the road to being able to do something for the people of this country -- that's health insurance reform," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "But I think it's important to spend a little bit of time on the Republicans' plan. It's very clear what that is, and that's to keep things the way they are -- the status quo."

Senate Democrats, including Jack Reed (R.I.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) are holding a press conference this morning alongside Consumers Union president Jim Guest to discuss "Republicans' continued support of health care status quo."

Guest announced last week that CU, the publisher of Consumer Reports, was running a TV ad for two weeks in the Washington, D.C., media market to advocate for Congress passing health care reform this year -- something the decades-old company has never done for any other cause.

In pressuring Republicans, Democrats have also utilized recent quotes from prominent Republicans around the country who have stated a desire for Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass reform this year. Included in the group of Republicans that have spoken out are former Senate Majority Leaders Bill Frist and Bob Dole, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This emphasis on the support of Republicans who are now outside of the Beltway has been pushed from all Democratic angles, including Senate and House leadership, the Democratic National Committee, and the White House.

"There are people that have been outside of the cocoon of Washington ... encouraging the process that's working to take place," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday. "I hope that Republicans in Washington hear the message of Republicans all over the country that it's time to come in off the sidelines and actively get involved in making some serious progress on health care reform this year."

Schwarzenegger was the latest of the bunch to emphasize the importance of passing reform this year, releasing a statement yesterday urging Congress to move forward with legislation. The move stands in stark contrast to the stated goals of many Congressional Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who do not favor comprehensive reform to the country's health care system.

"Our principal goals, slowing the growth in costs, enhancing the quality of care delivered, improving the lives of individuals, and helping to ensure a strong economic recovery, are the same goals that the president is trying to achieve," Schwarzenegger said yesterday. "I appreciate his partnership with the states and encourage our colleagues on both sides of the political aisle at the national level to move forward and accomplish these vital goals for the American people."

A release from the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) included many of the senior Republicans' quotes and asked whether congressional Republicans would "finally recognize the urgent need" to reform the health care system.

Reid reacted to the Schwarzenegger quote as well, stating he was "encouraged that Gov. Schwarzenegger along with former Republican leaders like Sen. Frist, Sen. Dole and Secretary Thompson are putting policy over partisanship," unlike congressional Republicans who are "content with delaying reform that is long overdue."

Republicans on Capitol Hill say they've been calling for reform all along -- just not the kind Democrats want passed. They say an insurance mandate and public option, among other reforms Democrats are rolling into what President Obama has targeted as a $900 billion package, will mean increased taxes, fees and federal government spending.

"The influx of headlines breathlessly claiming support for health care reform amongst Republicans is puzzling considering Republicans have been calling for reform for months," said McConnell spokesman Josh Holmes. "It is the details of the health care reform proposals before Congress that are extremely concerning for Republicans."

Many hurdles still remain for Democrats before the legislation reaches the Senate floor. They include passing it out of the Finance Committee, and melding the Finance bill with the one passed July 15 by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

While the second will certainly be a challenge, the height of the first hurdle remains in question. Baucus said yesterday he's "hopeful" the CBO score will come back tomorrow and said the timing of the vote will depend on how much CBO projects the cost of the bill to be.

Stepping on to an elevator in the Capitol, Baucus appeared confident when asked by a reporter what he was expecting to hear. "I'm not discouraged," he said with a smile.


Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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