- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

House Democrats released a draft of their health care reform bill Friday, a sweeping proposal that would change the face of American health care with a new public insurance program and mandates on employers to provide coverage and individuals to obtain it.

But the proposal does not outline a method to pay for the vastly expanded coverage and will likely face fierce opposition from Republicans, industry groups and even some Democrats.

“Today marks a historic moment in America’s urgent quest to fix our broken health insurance system,” said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, one of the three House panels with jurisdiction over health care that crafted the draft bill together.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, California Democrat, said the bill would be fully paid for, likely with Medicare and Medicaid reforms and new taxes, but declined to estimate the total cost just yet.

The Ways and Means Committee is considering a series of proposals, including taxing sugary drinks and raising income taxes on the highest earners. Taxing at least some employer-provided health care benefits, a proposal being considered in the Senate, has met with sharp criticism by top Democrats on the committee.

The public option is likely to be opposed by Republicans, who say such a government-run program would drive private insurers out of business, leaving the public option as the only choice for consumers. Democrats argue that the public option is necessary to keep private insurers honest and drive down soaring prices.

“I can’t wait to talk to anybody who is fighting this public health insurance program,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat. “It’s going to be competitive.”

The three committees are expected to begin hearings next week.

Meanwhile, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ended its third day of mark up debate at noon Friday, again plagued by partisan bickering over the basic outlines of the plan.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, acting as chairman in place of ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, warned he was not going to allow minority Republicans to load up the bill — itself only one-third complete — with more than 300 amendments.

But Sen. Michael B. Enzi, ranking Republican on the committee, complained that the minority party has been left out of the process.

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