Health Care Reform Bill Stalled as President Obama Prepares to Address Nation

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It has been a week since the election of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts caused Senate Democrats to lose their 60-vote, filibuster proof majority. Still unsure about the impact Brown’s election will have on health care reform, Senate Democrats are weighing their options — which include passing a smaller version of their proposed bill or forcing a risky simple majority vote through a budget reconciliation– while some Senate Republicans favor starting over from scratch.

Democrats are reluctant to restart the legislative process, which began in earnest at the end of 2009. On December 24, 2009, the Senate passed a bill aimed at overhauling America’s health care system in a 60-to-39 party-line vote (all 58 Democrats and 2 independents supported it). With Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr presiding over the historic Christmas Eve vote, senators passed the bill that would reform the health care system by guaranteeing access to health care for millions of Americans and curbing health costs.

Major difficulties stemmed from blending the 2 separate versions of the health care reform legislation from the House and Senate—and finding a common ground regarding approaches to providing coverage and paying for it. Under the Senate plan (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), about 94% of legal residents younger than age 65 would be covered, and the cost would be $871 billion over 10 years; with the House plan (Affordable Health Care for America Act), approximately 96% of Americans younger than age 65 would be covered, and the net cost of the bill would be $894 billion. The Senate’s plan would expand Medicaid and would create tax subsidies to help lower- and middle-income families comply with a mandate to purchase insurance. Both versions of the bill from the House and Senate differ on items like abortion, taxes, and a proposed government-run health insurance plan.

In recent interviews, President Obama has admitted mistakes in the way the administration presented its agenda for health care reform, noting that mixed messages in the media have confused both lawmakers and the public. As he prepares to deliver the State of the Union address on January 27, 2010, Obama will likely attempt to redefine his agenda and “smooth over intraparty warring that has taken place since the Massachusetts election,” according to White House aides. Although it is unclear whether he will continue to push for his comprehensive plan or settle for a scaled back version, Obama is expected to reiterate the message he has delivered since his election that the economy cannot be fixed without addressing health care.