Washington: Digging in for a long struggle, Republican Senators and Governors assailed the Democrats` newly-minted health care legislation on Thursday as a collection of tax increases, Medicare cuts and heavy new burdens for deficit-ridden states.
Despite the criticism, there were growing indications Democrats would prevail on an initial Senate showdown set for Saturday night, and Majority Leader Harry Reid crisply rebutted the Republican charges. The bill "will save lives, save money and save Medicare," he said.
The legislation is designed to answer President Barack Obama`s call to expand coverage, end industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, and restrain the growth of health care spending.
Republicans saw little to like.
"It makes no sense at all and affronts common sense," said Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, one of several Republicans to criticise the measure. He added that a plan to expand Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, was a "bait and switch" with states as the victims.
GOP governors, meeting in Texas, agreed. "We all know a sucker play when we see one," said Mitch Daniels of Indiana. The bill would expand the Medicaid program, which provides health care for the poor, and leave the states with part of the additional cost beginning after three years.
In the Capitol, Reid answered Republican delaying tactics with an initial test vote set for Saturday evening. A 60-vote majority is required to advance the bill toward full debate, expected to begin after Thanksgiving.
Counting two independents, Democrats control 60 Senate seats. Three moderate Democrats have been cagey about their intentions, although none of them has announced a plan to defect. Officials disclosed during the day that Reid had included in the bill a political sweetener for one of the three, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, in the form of USD 100 million to help her state cover health care costs for the poor.
While the struggle was forming, there were limits. Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla, backed off his threat to force the 2,074-page bill to be read aloud in the Senate chamber, a move that would have eaten into the Senate`s Thanksgiving-week vacation.
Given the political stakes, there was disagreement even about the bill`s cost.
Democrats put the price tag of the 2,074-page measure at USD 979 billion, higher than the USD 849 billion figure they had cited on Wednesday as the cost of expanding coverage to 31 million who now lack insurance. Republicans calculated it at more like USD 1.5 trillion over a decade, and said even that was understated because Reid decided to delay implementation of some of the bill`s main features until 2014.
Officially, the Congressional Budget Office said the measure would reduce deficits by USD 130 billion over the next decade with probable small reductions in the 10 years that follow — forecasts that cheered rank-and-file Democrats. Among the cost-cutting provisions would be creation of an Independent Medicare Advisory Board which could be required to recommend steps limiting the growth of the program that provides health care to millions of seniors. The recommendations would go into effect automatically unless Congress blocked them.