Hagan behind health proposal

RALEIGH The proposal by Democrat chairman Max Baucus is a 900 billion, 10-year plan to enact President Barack Obama's top domestic priority. He's called it a compromise between Republican and Democratic viewpoints that can get 60 votes in the Senate.

But most Republicans have come out against it. Wednesday, they argued it would hurt seniors while Democrats shot back that it would do nothing of the sort.

The debate over seniors came only after hours of discussion on a GOP amendment providing for making bill language public ahead of a vote.

It failed narrowly, but Republicans succeeded in showing they were prepared to drag out one issue after another and test Baucus' goal of getting the legislation through his committee by the end of this week.

On seniors, Republicans contended that some $500 billion in cuts to Medicare providers over a decade to pay for the bill would surely reduce patients' benefits. That's something Obama has repeatedly denied, though he was contradicted on the point by the head of the Congressional Budget Office Tuesday.

Budget Director Douglas Elmendorf said the cuts could reduce the generous benefits that the seniors in Medicare's private managed care plans enjoy.

GOP senators pushed amendments Wednesday meant to block the bill's proposed changes to Medicare.

It's "disingenuous to say Congress can cut this much spending from Medicare without having an adverse affect on seniors' access to care," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Baucus disputed that, saying Kyl's amendment "hurts seniors, because the effect of the underlying bill is to help reduce health care costs."

Baucus fought off amendments on Medicare from Kyl and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ruling them out of order on technical points.

The Finance Committee is the only congressional committee with jurisdiction that has yet to approve a health overhaul bill, so committee approval would clear the way for action within a week or so on the Senate floor. Across the Capitol, majority Democrats are working on the same timeline as they push for a vote in the House.

If Democrats can't get a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, they could fall back on a tactic known as "reconciliation." It lowers the threshold to pass legislation to a simple majority of 51, but they run the risk of making health care reform strictly partisan, and possibly even alienating members of their own party.

When asked if she'd support health reform in a reconciliation vote Wednesday, Senator Hagan refused to answer - saying she would have to see the bill before deciding.

She added that she would rather the bill be bipartisan.

Hagan maintained her stance that any health care bill must not add to the federal deficit, and pointed to Congressional Budget Office numbers that show the health care bill currently in the Finance committee would reduce the federal deficit by $49 billion over 10 years, and by $800-900 billion over the following decade (approx. half a percent of GDP).

Hagan also repeated the line “the cost of inaction is just too high.” She said once the Finance Committee bill is finalized, it will be merged with the version out of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (of which she is a member) and brought to the Senate floor for a full vote.

She said she is confident this will happen but would not give a timeline. And she said she is fairly confident the Massachusetts senate seat would be filled soon, giving them the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority needed to pass the bill.

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