WASHINGTON – Facing an electorate unhappy with health care legislation and worried about jobs and financial insecurity, congressional Democrats are under increasing pressure to complete work quickly on their sweeping overhaul and turn to other, more pressing issues.
That may ease the path to a final compromise, as senior Democratic leaders work to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of the health care legislation in time to send a bill to President Barack Obama before he delivers his State of the Union address later this month or in early February.
“Health care: Get it over with,” is the message that Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said she got from her economically ravaged district around Toledo over the holiday break. “Do it, but fix what’s wrong with the bigger picture here.”
Further fueling the push for speedy resolution of the remaining disagreements is sheer weariness. The intense, yearlong battle has left many Democrats with little appetite for another big fight.
“There is definitely fatigue,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn. “There’s skepticism this place can absorb another massive domestic debate.”
Still, Democrats must resolve politically delicate disagreements over such hot-button issues as abortion and taxes, including the Senate provision to tax high-end “Cadillac” health plans. Courtney is among those working to head off the proposal, but other funding mechanisms also face opposition.
Procedurally, the House is expected to slightly modify the Senate bill and then send it back across the Capitol for a final vote in the Senate.
House Democrats gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to discuss potential compromises, the bulk of which will have to be made by the House. Senate Democrats passed a bill last month by the narrowest of margins, making it unlikely that any major changes in their blueprint could survive a second vote.
Emerging from their meeting, Democratic leaders did not announce any final agreements Tuesday.
But the desire to avoid new brawls and finish health care, especially with election-year pressure to do more to reduce unemployment – the issue that polls say is weighing more on voters’ minds than health care – has already helped diffuse debate over once-contentious issues.
Creating a new government insurance plan was formerly a must for many liberals. Now, most are resigned to abandoning the idea in the face of opposition from conservative Democrats in the Senate.
Labor leaders met with senior House Democrats at the Capitol Tuesday and pressed their campaign to strip out the Senate’s proposed tax on “Cadillac plans.” Unions argue that the tax would penalize members who negotiated generous medical benefits in lieu of higher pay.
Meantime, consumer groups and other longtime advocates of a “public option” were pushing for more oversight of the insurance industry in anticipation that the final legislation will not include a new government insurance plan intended to compete with commercial insurers.