Team Effort in the House to Overhaul Health Care
By ROBERT PEAR
The New York Times
March 17, 2009
The unified approach contrasts with the competition and rivalry among committee chairmen that helped sink President Bill Clinton’s plan for universal health insurance 15 years ago.
Mr. Miller, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over employee benefits, said the three lawmakers had decided to “try and work as one committee” to produce a comprehensive health care bill this summer.
In a letter to President Obama, the chairmen said, “Our intention is to bring similar legislation before our committees.”
Mr. Waxman, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “We intend to work from a single bill, and have that bill considered by the House before the August recess.”
Such agreements, while no guarantee of success, could help build momentum for a bill. A united front could make it harder for lobbyists to derail legislation. White House officials welcomed the prospect of cooperation by House leaders, saying it increased the chances of passing a bill to expand coverage this year, a top priority for Mr. Obama.
Many issues, including the question of how to pay for it, are unresolved. But the House chairmen said they had informally agreed to plow ahead on the assumptions that individuals would be required to carry insurance and that most employers would be required to help pay for it.
In health policy circles, the shorthand for such proposals is “individual mandate” and “employer mandate.” House Democrats prefer to say that “everyone will participate, and everyone will benefit.”
Leading Republicans and insurance companies have expressed alarm at the idea of a new government-run insurance plan competing with private insurers.
But House Democrats are not backing down. “A lot of people don’t care whether it’s Medicare, Medicaid, public or private,” said Mr. Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “They just want to know they can get affordable health care.”
At a recent White House forum, Mr. Obama said he was willing to compromise on details. “I just want to figure out what works,” he said.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama said that he would require most employers to offer “meaningful coverage” or help pay for it, but that small businesses should be exempt from the requirement.
Mr. Miller said requiring employers to contribute to the cost of coverage was one element of the legislation being discussed by the House chairmen. “Clearly,” he said, “you have to consider employer mandates.”
Many business groups are wary of such a requirement.
“Retailers are struggling, particularly in the current environment, to keep our doors open,” said E. Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation, a trade group. “We do not need and cannot afford any new government mandates.”
But Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat who is chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, said, “Health care reform will give employers some relief” from soaring health costs.