Snowe Called to White House as GOP Stumbles on Health Care

Over the weekend, the Senate continued debate on its version of the government takeover of health care with Republican “unanimous consent” cooperation on floor procedure.  

Democrats fell into a rhythm of voting down Republican amendments to jettison the half-trillion dollars worth of Medicare cuts while passing their own — garnering Republican votes (at times 100-0) on their amendments for political cover.

As early as today, they will begin consideration of an amendment to bar abortion funding by or through any government-run “public option” insurance plan. This issue still may be the one that kills the bill for the year.  Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson — reportedly working on a provision like the Stupak Amendment included in the House bill — still appears adamant on preventing abortion coverage.

On Saturday, President Obama visited the Senate Democrats to deliver a pep talk on the bill.  Conspicuously absent from his remarks was any mention of the “public option.”

Does that mean the “public option” is dead? No, it just means the Democratic leaders are trying to sell it softly, behind closed doors.

The radical left Senate leadership continues its attempts in meetings behind closed doors to convince Democrat senators from red states that they won’t really be committing political suicide by voting in favor of the measure.  By the end of this process, the $300 million “Louisiana Purchase” buyoff of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) will likely appear cheap.

Democrats are focused on trying to peel off at least one of the two most liberal Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.  On Saturday, Snowe was summoned to the White House for a chat with the president.  Snowe says she opposes the government-run public option.

The crucial vote is for cloture to end debate on the bill and bring it to a final vote.  Invoking cloture requires 60 votes and will be considered as a vote for the actual passage of the bill which only requires 50 with the Veep voting in favor to break a tie.  Voting for cloture before voting against the bill won’t provide any protection for red state Democrats under close scrutiny by voters at home.

Democrats need Collins or Snowe to vote for cloture on the bill to provide political cover for Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) who will more likely than not get run out of office on a rail if she votes in favor of health care.  A vote in favor of the bill by either Republican could allow Lincoln to vote against cloture.

The latest Rasmussen poll of likely Arkansas voters shows Lincoln trailing four possible Republican challengers with support ranging from a dismal 39-41 percent, a death knell for an incumbent.

Arkansas voters in the poll strongly oppose the Democrats’ health care plan by 56 percent while only 18 percent strongly favor passage.

The clock is ticking as crucial, “must pass” legislation will continue to pile up this week as the Senate is stuck on health care.  For starters, the House will likely pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) this week to fund government past the December 18 drop dead date.  Seven of the remaining 2010 appropriations bills that have not yet passed will be covered by the CR.  The Senate cannot move to pass the CR without dumping health care unless they can get unanimous consent from Republicans.  Without consent, there would be another 60-vote hurdle to bring health care back to the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is short of the 60 votes needed to end debate and bring the bill up for a vote on final passage at this time.  Reid remains in serious re-election trouble himself, still trailing possible Republican challengers by as much as 10 points in a new Mason-Dixon poll released late last week.  The polling came on the heels of a six-week promotional media blitz by Reid at home.  Ouch.

On Saturday, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in an interview in the Wall Street Journal that he still will not vote for cloture if there is a “public option” included in the bill.

“I’m being more stubborn and certain about this… I think it’s such a significant step for the country to create another entitlement program and to have the government going into a business, I feel like I’ve got to say no,” Lieberman said.  

Lieberman told the Journal that when he says no public option, he means no public option — not an “opt-in” or an “opt out” or a “trigger” (a public option only comes into effect if private insurers fail to spread enough coverage).

“We are at the point now where this has become the classic legislative process of trying to get a fig leaf that everyone can hide behind,” Lieberman said.  “And I don’t want to do that.”

On Sunday, President Obama dropped in for half an hour to meet with Democrats behind closed doors. Obama reportedly delivered the same message to his comrades that former President Bill Clinton delivered last month: failure to pass the bill that the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose is the worst outcome.  Uh-huh.

“The fact that the president of the United States is over meeting with Democrats only tells you where this debate has gone,” Sen. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said of the closed-door meeting.  “It’s drifted off into a completely partisan effort.”

Republicans were not allowed to attend the meeting with the president.

CBO:  Senate Health Care Bill Causes Insurance Premium Cost to Rise

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) set the record straight on the floor of the Senate when Democrats continued to misrepresent new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) numbers on the Senate health care bill’s impact on insurance premiums.  The CBO found that the cost of premiums would rise faster if the Senate health care bill passes, an average of 10-13 percent in the individual market.

From the speech:

“On Monday the Congressional Budget Office sent a letter to Senator Bayh that provides a comprehensive analysis of what health insurance premiums will look like as a result of the Reid bill.  I’m starting to wonder if anyone actually read the letter.  I hear a lot of people saying that this letter proves that premiums will go down under the Reid bill, even though that’s not what the letter says.  So, I’m down here to tell people what the letter really says.

“The letter makes it very clear that premiums will increase on average by 10 to 13 percent for people buying coverage in the individual market.  I’ve even brought down a chart to show everyone, just in case you missed it.  The people who keep saying that premiums are going to go down conveniently forget to mention this 10 to 13 percent increase.  They prefer to talk about the 57 percent of Americans in the individual market who would get subsidies.  Yes, it’s true, the government is spending $500 billion to cover up the fact that this bill drives up premiums faster than current law.  I repeat, premiums will go up faster under this bill.  Supporters of this bill are just covering up this increase in costs by handing out subsidies.  And if you’re one of the 14 million who don’t get a subsidy, you’re out of luck.  You’re stuck with a plan that is 10 to 13 percent more expensive and an unprecedented new federal law that mandates you purchase insurance.

“Some may say that this is just the individual market.  It only accounts for a small portion of the total market.  Well, if you’re comfortable with 14 million people paying more under this bill than they would under current law, let’s look at the employer-based market.  CBO’s analysis says that this bill maintains the status quo in the small group and large group insurance market.  Is that really something worth celebrating?  Are expectations so low at this point that Democrats are celebrating that this bill will increase premiums for some and maintain the status quo for everyone else?  And I’m being generous in using the phrase “status quo” because this bill actually makes things worse for millions of people.”