New York Times- Senate Moves Forward on Health Care | Friends of Cancer Research

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New York Times- Senate Moves Forward on Health Care


By David M. Herszenhorn, Health care legislation will dominate the agenda in Congress this week, with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee scheduled to

begin detailed work on its bill at a hearing on Tuesday afternoon. 

But the more highly anticipated development comes later in the week when the Senate Finance Committee is expected to release its outline of a similar measure to revamp the nation’s health care system.

If a bipartisan deal can be reached on health care, the Finance Committee bill is likely to be the foundation of it. And the reaction by Republicans to the outline being developed by the committee chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, will provide a strong indicator of where things are headed.

Also this week, the House and Senate will seek to give final approval to a $105.9 billion emergency war spending bill.

House-Senate negotiators hammered out a final agreement on the bill last week, only after the White House interceded to help resolve a dispute over whether to ban the release of photographs showing the abuse of detainees held by United States military forces.

The photos are the subject of a freedom of information lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In negotiations over the war spending bill, Democrats stripped out a Republican amendment that would ban release of the photos. But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a procedural ruling that ensured that the photographs would not be released for months, if ever. And the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, rushed over to the Capitol on Thursday where he held up his cell phone, so that President Obama, talking on the speaker, could assure lawmakers that he would do everything possible to keep the photos sealed.

The spending measure, which will finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through Sept. 30, also makes available up to $7.65 billion for pandemic flu preparedness. The House will act first, and then the Senate hopes to approve the bill by the end of the week, sending it to Mr. Obama for his signature.

The House will also begin work this week on two of the annual spending bills – a $42.6 billion Homeland Security measure and a $64.4 billion measure for the Commerce Department, Justice Department and science-related agencies, including NASA. That bill would also impose restrictions on the transfer of terror detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And the Senate will start off the week with a bill to create a nonprofit corporation to promote tourism to the United States, to be called the Corporation for Travel Promotion. The nonprofit company would be financed in part by a new $10 fee on foreign travelers visiting the United States.

The health care debate, however, will overshadow virtually everything else, as Congress steps up its efforts to formulate the legislation that Mr. Obama has said is his top policy priority this year.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, warned lawmakers on Friday that they were about to begin an extraordinarily busy period, with few days off to visit constituents back home. “We have a tremendous amount of work to do,” he said.

Republicans on the health committee last week expressed deep dismay over the liberal bent of the legislation that has emerged from their committee, a tilt that was not surprising given the number of progressive-leaning Democrats who dominate the panel.

Some Republicans have said that the bill would have been more centrist had Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the health committee, been in Washington to work on it. Mr. Kennedy is at home where he is receiving treatments for brain cancer.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the No. 2 Democrat on the health committee, is a close friend of Mr. Kennedy but lacks the force of personality that Mr. Kennedy enjoys among Senate colleagues – a point that Mr. Dodd readily conceded in an appearance on Fox News Sunday.

“Senator Kennedy has dedicated four decades of his life,” Mr. Dodd said on FOX. “I’m merely a designated hitter for him at this point while he’s struggling with his own cancer.”

Mr. Dodd, who appeared on television with Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican of the Finance Committee, also made clear that Democrats are even divided among themselves on some of the more complicated questions in the health care debate. Mr. Dodd said he would oppose efforts to tax some employer-provided health benefits, an idea that other Democrats, including Mr. Baucus of the Finance Committee, have said they would consider.

“This is is unnecessary, in my view,” Mr. Dodd said. “And I feel very strongly about this, as many do as well.”

Mr. Grassley said that there was growing consensus among Republicans and Democrats for requiring individual Americans to obtain health insurance. “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates,” he said, though he added the Republicans oppose requiring businesses to provide insurance.

So far Mr. Grassley continues to work closely with Mr. Baucus on the Finance Committee bill, even as they express disagreement on a number of crucial points, including whether to create a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurances, the so-called “public option” also supported by Mr. Obama but staunchly opposed by many Republicans. Democrats have begun to put forward a number of compromise concepts, including a plan to use a network of health insurance co-operatives in place of a public option.

Senate Democrats are hoping that the two committees will produce legislation that can be woven into a cohesive bill and brought to the floor for debate shortly after the July Fourth recess, with a goal of adopting the measure before the summer break begins in August.