- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — A leading Senate Democrat said Monday his party is determined to push through a health care overhaul bill with or without Republican support because the “system is broken.”

“We prefer to go at it with Republicans if we can reach compromises in some areas,” said Sen. Charles Schumer. “But we’re not going to not pass a bill.”

Schumer dueled with Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on a network morning news show in the wake of a key Senate vote Saturday night that advanced a 10-year, $959 billion health bill to full debate. Hutchison argued that “you’re going to put taxes and mandates on business” that would be a drag on an economy still struggling to recover from recession.

Congressional Democrats are trying to resolve differences within their rank and file over abortion, taxes and letting the government sell health insurance as a competitor with private insurers. Those are all crucial policy questions, and House and Senate Democrats have taken conflicting approaches.

The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan. Nearly 50 million of the country’s more than 300 million people are uninsured. The government provides coverage for the poor and elderly, but most Americans rely on private insurance, usually received through their employers.

Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show Monday, Schumer said, “We all know we have to give a little. … If we don’t do anything, that is the worst situation, and we have a good bill.” He said lawmakers must come together because “the health care system is broken.”

Schumer argued that Republican critics “haven’t put any alternative on the floor.”

Hutchison called it “a terrible idea at this time.” She said that Republicans “have put alternatives on the floor,” including individual tax credits that would not include cutting Medicare and permitting a government takeover of the health care system.

The Democratic measures would leave 12 million or more eligible Americans uninsured. Many middle-class families who’d now be required to buy coverage would still find the premiums a stretch, even with government aid. A new federal fund to provide temporary coverage for people with health problems would quickly run out of cash.

The House passed its health care bill 220-215 earlier this month. The Senate cleared the way Saturday for debate on legislation unveiled by Majority Leader Harry Reid. The bill, a compromise between two committee-passed versions, could undergo significant changes as senators amend it during weeks of arduous debate ahead.

Both bills would require all Americans to carry health insurance, with government help to make premiums more affordable. They would ban insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more to people with health problems. They would set up new insurance markets for those who now have the hardest time finding and keeping coverage — self-employed people and small businesses. Americans insured through big employer plans would gain new consumer protections but wouldn’t face major changes.

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