Democrats Show Little Progress on Health Care
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Julie Rovner looks at what went wrong.
JULIE ROVNER: Way back in January, the new Democratic majority in the House voted to change to a key element to the Republican Medicare prescription drug law and require the federal government to negotiate with drug makers for lower prices for Medicare patients. It marked the first of the series of policy frustrations. President Bush never even got a chance to follow through on his veto threat for the Medicare drug price negotiation bill - the Senate failed to pass it. He did get to veto the next major health bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. That came in June.
GEORGE W: Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical, and it is not the only option before us.
ROVNER: Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel heads the House Democratic Caucus.
RAHM EMANUEL: The country wanted its political leadership to start tackling the health care crisis. We proposed something that there was a consensus on, which we thought everybody agreed was the right to do, which is kids first.
ROVNER: The House passed a $50 billion expansion on a mostly partisan vote in August but the Senate passed a $35 billion bill with a bipartisan consensus and a veto-proof margin. House leaders basically took that version one over 45 moderate Republicans and sent it to the White House in September where, as Emanuel puts it...
EMANUEL: The president and a few Republicans said no.
ROVNER: And even more popular measure to bar insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of a person's genetic makeup passed the House in April by a vote of 420 to 3. But it's being held up in the Senate by a single member, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn. He says he's for the bill but he wants it change to give employers more protections.
TOM COBURN: We shouldn't have a genetic nondiscrimination bill that puts employers liable for something that they're not liable for.
ROVNER: Still, despite the lack of output, House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel doesn't apologize for making the effort, and says in the end, he thinks Democrats will prevail.
EMANUEL: I think this is such a fundamental issue given the health care crisis to this country that the ability of some Republicans will stand by the president and deny 10 million children of working parent's health care will be an issue in a number of elections. And right after the elections in November, those 10 million children will get health care.
ROVNER: And while the new Democratic Congress might not have a lot to show in terms of legislative accomplishments, says Drew Altman, president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, it did succeed in changing the terms of the health care debate in Washington.
DREW ALTMAN: The world's universal coverage hadn't been heard in Washington health policy circles for years, and now it's back in the public discourse. And overall health care is rising again as a national issue, and the attention in the Congress played a role in that.
ROVNER: Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.