President likes bipartisanship, but makes it clear . . . reform can’t wait

President Obama used the Olympic spirit to not only congratulate U.S. athletes, but also remind everyone that the country can overcome large obstacles when we come together despite our differences. Segueing into politics, the President applauded a bipartisan 406-19 vote in the House of Representatives that removed antitrust exemption from health insurance companies.

via The Washington Post:

by Perry Bacon Jr.

The House voted Wednesday to strip health insurance companies of their exemption from federal antitrust laws, a Democratic measure that could resonate with public concerns about insurers but that has an uncertain future in the Senate.

The provision passed on a 406 to 19 vote, with most Republicans joining all the House Democrats in voting for the measure.

President Obama has said he favors the idea of repealing the exemption, and House Democrats say doing so would add scrutiny to the practices of health insurers. “The American people want and need this protection,” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.)

The President also praised this week’s health summit as an opportunity to move forward after both sides were given an opportunity to publicly state their likes, dislikes and ideas regarding the current legislation. But make no mistake about it, the President was clear to remind the public that, despite desires for bipartisanship, the American people can no longer wait for health reform to take effect.

There were no signs of starting over from this president. And, if anything, President Obama’s words appeared (at least to me) to signal a willingness to use reconciliation if necessary.

Debate still continues as to how practical reconciliation might be. There are procedural hurdles (at least one of which, The Byrd Rule, requires 60 votes itself) that must be overcome before the Senate can have an up-or-down vote. Such hurdles suggest that not every piece of health reform that is offered for reconciliation will get passed. There is also the expectation that Republicans will offer a slew of amendments and procedural tactics to delay the vote as long as possible. And throughout all of this, a lot of the reconciliation process might come down to the opinion and interpretations of the Senate parliamentarian (we‘ll probably hear a lot more about this mysterious individual in the coming weeks). Oh, and by the way, the Senate Parliamentarian’s name is Alan Frumin, and you can read more about him and the process over at Slate here.

Still, the idea of reconciliation is gaining new strength, and not a moment too soon for many proponents of health reform. (Note: for a discussion of the reconciliation process, take a look at Ezra Klein’s article in The American Prospect from last year – you can read it here)

President Obama emphasized the need to move forward in his weekly address. And in doing so, the President might have implied a willingness to do it with or without Republican support. The President did not shy away from disagreements he still has with Republican lawmakers:

“[We] disagreed over whether insurance companies should be held accountable when they deny people care or arbitrarily raise premiums. I believe they should. We disagreed over giving tax credits to small businesses and individuals that would make health care affordable for those who don’t have it. This would be the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history, and I believe we should do it. And while we agreed that Americans with pre-existing conditions should be able to get coverage, we disagreed on how to do that.”

The President continued,

“I said at the end of Thursday’s summit that I’m eager and willing to move forward with members of both parties on health care if the other side is serious about coming together to resolve our differences and get this done. But I also believe that we can’t lose the opportunity to meet this challenge. The tens of millions of men and women who can’t afford their health insurance — they can’t wait another generation for us to act. Small businesses can’t wait. Americans with pre-existing conditions can’t wait. States and federal budgets can’t sustain these rising costs. It’s time for us to come together. It’s time for us to act. It’s time for those of us in Washington to live up to our responsibilities to the American people and to future generations. So let’s get this done.”

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