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Democrats make final push on health care
In the final push to pass a health care overhaul, Democratic leaders on Thursday sought to sway anxious party members with a new $940 billion plan that cuts the deficit, raises Medicare revenue with a new tax on the investment income on wealthier Americans and placates unions by slashing the tax on high-end insurance plans.
The concept, backed by President Obama, is designed to build positive momentum ahead of a Sunday vote on the landmark health care overhaul, which would extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans, fill the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut” hole of limited coverage and curb insurance industry abuses.
It swung two former “no” votes to the “yes” column.
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer called the plan “the biggest deficit reduction bill that any member of Congress is going to have an opportunity to vote on” with hopes of swaying fiscally minded Democrats to support it.
Republicans remain steadfastly opposed to the plan, leaving Democrats to come up with all of the support themselves.
“The reason House Democrats don’t have the votes is because the American people know this is a government takeover of health care,” said Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.
The 153-page bill released Thursday represents repairs that Mr. Obama and House leaders requested in exchange for voting for the Senate’s health care plan. If passed, the “repair” bill would also have to pass the Senate through complicated reconciliation procedures that can circumvent a Republican filibuster.
Critics of the plan already spotted two provisions that they say are tightly focused on specific states, possibly in exchange for support of the legislation similar to the now infamous “Cornhusker Kickback.” They plan to rally against the bill as the final vote nears.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that Mr. Obama would postpone his Asia trip, originally scheduled to start Sunday, to help corral votes for his chief domestic agenda item.
The Congressional Budget Office analysis found that the plan would reduce the deficit by $138 billion over the next 10 years - $20 billion more than the House’s original plan - and continue to drive down the deficit in later years.
The reconciliation bill imposes a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income, such as from dividends and interest from investments, for couples making over $250,000 or individuals making over $200,000. It also delays implementation of a tax on the most expensive insurance plans and raise only $32 billion over 10 years, a slice of what the Senate originally planned.
Labor unions lobbied hard to get the tax removed over concern it would hit their middle-class members. The AFL-CIO seemed pleased with the changes and endorsed the plan Thursday.
It also includes changes to the student loan system that essentially eliminates private banks from the loan market. The loan reforms, which House leaders say was necessary under complicated reconciliation rules, would make the federal government the sole lender of student loans and raise $61 billion over 10 years, $10 billion of which go toward reducing the deficit.
The reconciliation plan also sends $100 million to low-income hospitals in Tennessee, a carve-out that Republicans have dubbed the “Rocky Top Vote Swap,” noting that retiring Rep. Bart Gordon came out in support of the bill on the day it was released. While most other states get similar federal funding, Tennessee lost it in the 1990s when it established a state health program.
North Dakota appears to have special funding as well. It’s the only state in the country that would qualify for a new carveout allowing its state-owned banks to continue to be able to issue student loans. Home-state Rep. Earl Pomeroy has been on the fence and Sen. Kent Conrad, as chairman of the Budget Committee, plays a pivotal role in reconciliation proceedings.
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