The Obama administration has managed to collect some concessions from hospital groups and drug companies, to the tune of over $200 billion in savings over ten years. This is nothing to sneeze at, but it still leaves the lion’s share of the proposed legislation searching for funding. Setting a requirement for employers to pay a fee to help cover uninsured employees takes another bite out, leaving hundreds of billions still to be found.
The Democratic leadership has brought up two major ideas fill that gap:
- taxing the medical benefits of higher earners
- a surtax on those who make more than $280,000 a year.
After some early indications otherwise, the proposal to tax medical benefits seems to be dead in the water. Support in the Senate dissolved when several polls put the opposition to such an idea among the public at around 59%. Unions, many of whom have negotiated higher benefits in lieu of higher pay over the last few years, were especially vocal in their opposition, which assured the proposal would lose enough support among democrats to block its passage.
It’s unclear whether the surtax proposal has enough support to make it through the senate either. Polls show people’s potential opposition of higher taxes to fund better coverage has been mixed. However, about 60% of those polled are for taxing those making over $280,000 a year to fund reform, lending weight to the surtax proposal. Charlie Rangel, who proposed the surtax plan, is expected to introduce the legislation Monday, but comments by several influential Senate Democrats suggest its chances of passage may be slim.
Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate (and Obama’s Blackberry buddy), has come out saying that the proposal is unlikely to pass. Kent Conrad, prominent member of a moderate group of Democratic Senators that would have to support any proposal entirely to block a filibuster, has said that he thinks the senate is heading in a direction other than controversial ideas like these two proposals. If these two senators are correct, and no other major solutions are being offered, then what options are left?
Passing a reform bill of this magnitude was not expected to be a walk in the park. Reforming a massive and labyrinthine system – with interests holding considerable clout and an opposition bent on stopping a public option – would be difficult even if the Democrats had a few more seats in the Senate. So far, Obama has been fairly hands off in his approach to working with congressional leaders on legislation. He seems to favor dealing out broad strokes of what he’d like to see in a bill that he would sign. This time he’s going to have to put more skin in the game and put some of that political capital to the test. If he can’t push either of these two funding proposals pushed through the Senate, he will have to explore other options.
Read on about some of those options in my next post, How TO pay for Health Care Reform.