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REHABILITATING HEALTHCARE

After Brown's victory -- now what?

Reform is needed. Democrats should not let the GOP victory in Massachusetts derail it.

January 21, 2010

Getting a new version of the bill through the Senate won't be easy, however. One way is to find common ground with the few Senate Republicans who've shown an interest in a comprehensive reform bill, such as Maine's Olympia J. Snowe. Although she supported the Senate Finance Committee's version of the bill, she voted against the version that reached the floor out of concern about the cost to small businesses and individual policyholders. But winning the vote of Snowe and other GOP moderates is a long shot. In fact, some Democratic senators who supported the bill in December may not be eager to vote for it again, given Tuesday's election results.

Another option is to divide the process into two parts. The House could approve the Senate bill, sending the measure to the president's desk. With a simple majority vote in each chamber, Congress could later pass a separate "reconciliation" measure to improve the cost-control provisions, weed out noxious special provisions that apply to Medicare and Medicaid, and make other budget-related improvements. That's a less appealing approach because it circumvents the GOP opposition rather than finding a compromise. It smacks of Democrats cramming unwanted legislation down the public's throat -- a criticism Republicans have used to obscure the benefits of real reform. But if there are no GOP votes in the Senate for a better bill, then Democrats should be willing to pass it without them.

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