Some Republicans Show Willingness To Compromise On Healthcare Reform

The prospects of a comprehensive healthcare reform bill passing are growing slimmer by the day. However, that does not mean that healthcare reform is dead altogether. After their bruising Senate loss in Massachusetts, Democrats are looking to scale back their proposals for reforming the health insurance industry. They are intent on ending this debate with something to show for a year of work. Previously, Democratic senators and representatives were mainly worried about satisfying the conservative, moderate, and liberal wings of the party. Most Republicans made a political calculation to oppose virtually any form of health care reform proposed by the Democrats. Meanwhile, the Democrats decided to go for broke and seek the most comprehensive reform their entire caucus could be convinced to vote for. As it turns out, Democrats clearly overreached. Now, they need to get at least a handful of Republicans on their side in order to pass legislation. 

There were some brief flashes of bipartisanship shortly after Obama's inaguration, but both parties quickly took sides. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine initially expressed some degree of support for healthcare reform. She was largely concerned with controlling costs, but so were centrist Democratic senators. In fact, she even supported the idea of a government-run health insurance public option under very limited circumstances--an idea that never gained traction among the entire Democratic caucus in the Senate. Snowe wanted to give the individual health insurance exchange markets, subsidies, and regulations time to work before resorting to further federal interventions. If the private health insurance companies were unable to cover a sufficient percentage of Americans, the public option would be "triggered".

Over the past several months, increased partisan rancor appeared to have soured Snowe on the issue. Democrats shut her and fellow Republicans out of negotiations, while conservative "tea party" activists were running primary challenges against any legislator deemed insufficiently strong in their opposition to healthcare reform. Granted, there may have been concern that their involvement in committees reconciling the House of Representatives' and Senate's bills would not be in good faith--only one Republican in the entire Congress (Louisiana Rep. Joseph Cao) voted in favor. However, the process just managed to alienate potentially amenable legislators like Snowe.

With the election of Scott Brown changing the balance of the Senate, President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and other Democratic leaders are acknowledging the need to slow down and cut the bill back to its most important, easily understandable elements. For her part, Snowe is waiting for Democrats to make the first move, to amend the bridges burned by the closed-door negotiations. Brown has also expressed his willingness to play a constructive role in reforming America's current health insurance system. Other moderate Republicans, including Maine's Susan Collins, may follow suit in crafting a new, more limited bill.

2008 Republican presidential candidate and Arizona Senator John McCain is also open to starting over. He has suggested that some elements of his election year healthcare proposal--such as allowing people to buy individual health insurance across state lines, tax credits for those buying individual or self employed health insurance, and medical malpractice tort reform--be considered. Similar ideas have also been touted by Snowe, as those with the potential of receiving bipartisan support. More gradual changes may also garner greater popularity among the general public than a substantial overhaul. In general, many politicians believe that the current bill is most likely unsalvageable; there is too much bad blood associated with its process.

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