- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010

As President Obama and congressional Democrats slogged through a daylong negotiating session Wednesday with hopes of resolving final differences on the health care bill, a liberal House member from New York gave a stern warning to the White House: “We don’t like negotiating with a gun to our head.”

The blustery admonition from Rep. Anthony Weiner, one of the House’s leading liberal voices, underscores deep divisions among Democrats over how the final bill is paid for, how it deals with abortion and whether it establishes a national or multiple state insurance exchanges.

He also gave voice to liberal House Democrats’ rising resentment to being forced to accept the bulk of the Senate bill, which does not include the public option coveted by liberals and imposes an excise tax on health insurance companies that critics say will increase premiums for middle-class families.

“The House has shown deference to the Senate in this process. But I am tired of hearing how hard it was to get 60 votes in the Senate … getting 218 votes to pass our health care bill in the House wasn’t easy,” he said in a written statement issued just before Mr. Obama’s meeting with House and Senate leaders about merging the two chambers’ health care bills.

The White House meeting lasted the entire day, with House leaders breaking briefly in the afternoon for votes before rejoining their Senate colleagues to continue the talks. Labor union leaders joined the conversations late in the day.

They have been pressuring House leaders and Mr. Obama to reject a tax on highly valued insurance plans, a provision in the Senate’s bill that they say would unfairly hit their middle-class members.

Democrats are “looking at ways to lessen the impact of the excise tax,” said Rep. Robert E. Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat who was not part of the discussions Wednesday. “The details of how to do that are not yet clear.”

One option on the table is to exclude collectively bargained plans, which would include union agreements.

Republicans said the schism among Democrats and popular opposition to the plans, which is putting election-year pressure on Democrats to abandon the legislation, could be sounding the death knell for Mr. Obama’s health care reforms.

“The bottom line is, I believe we can beat this bill … The American people are with us,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told rank-and-file members at a closed-door caucus meeting, according to an aide who was present. He also urged members to tout the Republican alternative, which supporters say would lower premiums by up to 10 percent without creating a government-run program or raising taxes.

Mr. Weiner’s complaint echoed other Democratic House members who insist the House bill “is better for the American people,” though Senate Democrats came up with a more moderate version after intense deal-making to win the 60 votes needed for passage in that chamber.

He also took a veiled swipe at the concession given to moderate Senate Democrat Ben Nelson, whose home state of Nebraska was given a special break on Medicaid costs in the Senate version.

The House bill, by contrast, “includes a public option that provides choice and competition and lower costs, Medicaid relief to all states not just one and doesn’t tax health care plans that many middle-class Americans have,” Mr. Weiner said.

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