- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

President Obama will sign an executive order Wednesday extending health care and other benefits to the partners of gay federal workers.

A White House official confirmed Tuesday that Mr. Obama would make the change during an early evening Oval Office event billed as “regarding federal benefits and nondiscrimination.”

The official said the administration would outline details Wednesday as the president issues the order.

The State Department recently made similar changes to its policy.

The administration is making the move as Mr. Obama faces criticism for not repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as he promised on the campaign trail. The policy, implemented under President Clinton, bans openly gay people from serving in the military.

Earlier Tuesday, Congress’ chief scorekeeper put a crimp in Democrats’ goal of passing health care reform this year by estimating that their proposals may cost more than expected and may bump millions of people out of their employer-provided insurance.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said that a new public health plan or more tax subsidies for private insurance would add about $100 billion a year in federal health care spending, and still wouldn’t be enough to cover the skyrocketing cost of medical care unless combined with “fundamental” changes in the way health care is financed and delivered.

President Obama has said any plan to expand health care coverage must not add to deficits - a stamp of approval that only the CBO can deliver - making the CBO assessments a significant hurdle to passage. Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats are cautious of any bill that would add significantly to the national debt.

The report on controlling long-term costs was released a day after CBO calculated that a Senate plan by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would cost $1 trillion and still leave about 36million uninsured.

The report also found that 15 million people likely would lose their employer-provided benefits, undermining Democrats’ pledge that Americans who like their current health care plans will be able to keep them.

The committee will start marking up the bill Wednesday. Democrats emphasized that the bill was incomplete and that CBO can’t score prevention and wellness measures that would provide savings. The bill was introduced by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who has been involved in the discussions from his home in Massachusetts as he battles brain cancer.

“These numbers are important,” Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and acting chairman of the committee, said of the CBO estimates. “We’re following them carefully. But … they’re preliminary.”

CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf said the proposals would hurt the economy if not paired with reforms on how the industry operates.

“Without meaningful reforms, the significant costs of many current proposals to expand federal subsidies for health insurance would be more likely to worsen the long-run budget outlook than to improve it,” he wrote on CBO’s Web site.

The report also suggests that the government could encourage health care savings by altering Medicare rates and ending the tax break on employer-provided benefits, an idea that most Democrats oppose.

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