Doubts linger about final passage of Democrats' health plan 

Senate and House Democrats intend to pass a final health care bill by next month, but as they return to Congress, Democratic leaders face a barrage of criticism and outright opposition to the bill from lawmakers and important interest groups that could put passage in jeopardy.

Democratic leadership aides in the House are insisting Congress can clear a health care bill by mid-February, but Senate leadership aides won't commit to a date.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who announced his retirement last week, went so far as to declare the bill's passage was "hanging by a thread."

Public opinion polls confirm a lack of support for the health care plan, with disapproval growing as time passes.

"I think they know how unpopular this is," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "And so I have some hope that they will have difficulty ramming this ... down the throats of the American people."

Republicans highlight a string of reports questioning the cost savings claimed in the Democratic plan.

The most recent report was released last month by the Health and Human Services Department. It found that the Senate-passed bill would not shrink health care costs as promised, but rather would increase them by .7 percent in the next decade. The report, issued by HHS's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the plan included potentially "unrealistic" policy changes needed to curb Medicare costs, and such reductions could lead to a loss of services for seniors.

Democrats point out that the report shows that the bill would ultimately keep Medicare solvent by reducing costs associated with it.

House Democratic leaders will soon begin negotiating in earnest with their rank and file to reduce opposition to a final bill that will likely mirror legislation passed in the Senate. Many House Democrats oppose the Senate bill because it lacks a government-run insurance program and includes an excise tax on expensive insurance policies.

Interest groups on the Left and Right who don't like the bill's taxes and abortion language are also bearing down on lawmakers.

On Tuesday, a coalition of business and union leaders sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., demanding lawmakers to get rid of the excise tax, which will hit many union workers.

"We urge you, instead, to choose alternative revenue-raisers that are less likely to undermine the objectives of reform," the letter says. "Viable options have been proposed."

If the House insists on any significant changes, such as substituting the excise tax with an income tax on the wealthy, Senate Democrats risk losing a vote, which will leave them shy of the 60-vote supermajority needed to block a Republican filibuster.

Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said these differences wouldn't block passage.

"Congress will soon pass, and the president will sign, a bill that provides affordability for the middle class, accountability for the insurance companies and accessibility to many more people in our country to quality, affordable health care," Daly said.




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