New Year, Same Issues: Congressional Health Care Debate Update

January may have been the beginning of a new decade, but the issues surrounding the health care debates of months (and years) past have spilled over as Congress comes back into session.

Currently, both the House and the Senate have passed a unique version of health care reform – or most specifically, insurance reform – yet those two bills have yet to be reconciled in committee.  But even as recently as late last week, the signs of concession and agreement on divisive issues are emerging, and a cohesive Congressional health care bill looks increasingly likely in the short-term.

Bloomberg News reports that House Democrats may consider discarding a surtax on the wealthiest Americans in lieu of adopting a measure favored by Senate Democrats to raise Medicare payroll taxes and to tax (for the first time) individual health benefits.  Despite concerns raised by House Democrats in a caucus-wide conference call earlier this week, it appears that House leadership is leaning toward concession on this issue, particularly with added pressure coming from President Obama and the White House to reach a consensus.

At the same time the President is walking a political tightrope, hosting meetings with Labor groups and the Democratic leadership in the hopes of assuaging concerns and smoothing any ruffled feathers so as to amass the needed Hill consensus, and constituent backing, to pass legislation.  However, it’s important to note that no official timetable has been set for passing the bill (either by the White House or Congress), though we would speculate the White House would love to see a bill passed into law before the upcoming State of the Union.

Expectedly, Congressional members of the GOP have voiced increasingly opposition to both bills, unifying efforts around concerns as to a reform bill’s fiscal responsibility and, in particular, its constitutionality.

On January 2, 2010, Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch was joined by Ken Blackwell of the Liberty University Law School and Kenneth Kuklowski of the American Civil Rights Union in an article for the Wall Street Journal questioning the constitutionality of a health care reform bill that would compel Americans to purchase insurance.  The argument is that mandatory coverage violates the commerce clause and would be an act not explicitly granted to Congress by the Constitution.

With all of these various balls in the air, my feeling is this: I agree that our current health care system needs improving and you would be hard-pressed to find someone to argue against the idea that trends in health care costs are simply unsustainable.  However, it’s equally imperative that our representatives in Congress remain mindful of their constitutional boundaries.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on any developments and relaying them back here.

Stay in touch,

George

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