Obama looks to fast-track health-reform Bill

Republicans on Wednesday rejected Barack Obama’s offer of compromise over his health-reform Bill and prepared for one of the biggest battles of recent United States political history.

Obama, after shelving reform for almost two months following the shock Republican victory in Massachusetts in January, asked Democrats in Congress to push it through as fast as possible. The final sprint comes after a year of wrangling in Congress, against a background of noisy public meetings and demonstrations.

Although neither Obama nor the Democratic leaders in Congress mentioned deadlines in public, they are aiming to have the Bill passed before the president leaves on a trip to Australia, Indonesia and Guam on March 18. The fallback position is March 26 when Congress breaks up for Easter.

Obama, speaking in the White House, said: “At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem but our ability to solve any problem.
The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. They are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership.

‘I don’t know how this plays politically but I know it’s right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work and I look forward to signing this reform into law.”

He said he was adopting proposals put forward by the Republicans at a bipartisan summit he organised in Washington last week, dismissed by some as tokenism.

Budget reconciliation
Republicans are outraged that the Democrats plan to use a legislative process, known as budget reconciliation, to try to ram the Bill through. The process requires only a simple majority in the Senate. Going through the normal legislative process could have seen the Bill blocked by Republican filibusters that require a 60-40 majority to overturn, a majority the Democrats do not have. The Republicans called the use of budget reconciliation unconstitutional.

After Massachusetts, Democrats debated within the party whether to abandon reform. The Obama plan is to extend insurance cover to 31-million people—close to universal healthcare. The Republicans favour extending it to only three million.

Obama said healthcare would reduce costs and end insurance company abuses. “So this is our proposal, this is where we’ve ended up. It’s an approach that has been debated and changed and I believe improved over the last year,” he said. “It incorporates the best ideas from Democrats and Republicans, including some of the ideas that Republicans offered during the healthcare summit, like funding state grants on medical malpractice reform and curbing waste, fraud and abuse in the healthcare system.”

The focus of the battle will be the House of Representatives where the Democrats enjoy a huge majority but only passed earlier reform by five votes. An Associated Press survey of members of the House published this week suggested there were 10 Democrats now prepared to consider switching from no votes to supporting the new health reform measures.—

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