WASHINGTON, D.C. — Saying he fears that it’s “now versus never” for health care reform, Sen. Al Franken today issued an impassioned call for the House to pass the Senate’s health-care bill if senators agree to go back later and fix it using reconciliation — a process that only requires 51 votes.
“I know that there are elements of the Senate bill that are distasteful to many members of the House of Representatives,” Franken said. “Believe me, there are a few elements in our bill that I’d like to see improved.
“But If we in the Senate pledge to fix those elements through reconciliation — a budget process that requires only 51 votes, the House of Representatives should pass the Senate bill,” he said. “Big pieces of legislation often need to be fixed and improved after passage. Health care would be no different. But we have to stop letting the perfect — and everyone has different definitions of perfect — be the enemy of the very good. “
As he spoke to a FamiliesUSA conference of health care professionals and activists, Franken ticked off several reasons he supports the Senate’s plan, such as the inclusion of quality-of-care as a factor in Medicare reimbursement rates and his medical-loss ratio amendment that would require 85 percent of health insurance premiums be spent on health care costs.
“I’m tired of this ‘House vs. Senate’ debate,” Franken said. “This is health care we’re talking about. It’s not House versus Senate. It’s right versus wrong. And I fear that it’s also now versus never.”
Franken’s remarks came the morning after President Obama’s first State of the Union speech, in which he called on Congress to finally pass heath care reform.
“Do not walk away from reform,” Obama said. “Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”
Challenge in House
Passing the Senate’s bill through the House will be a difficult task at best. Rep. Collin Peterson estimated last week that perhaps 100 Democrats would vote in favor of the bill if it came before the House as is. Peterson, who has said he thinks the bill is too far reaching, didn’t vote for the House health care bill and said he won’t vote for the Senate’s either.
Rep. Keith Ellison last week posed the ultimate question that House members will have to answer if the Senate’s bill comes up for a vote:
“I really do hate the Senate bill,” Ellison said. “The question is whether it’s better than nothing.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who spoke before Franken, did not speak to a methodology on health reform, but said it needs to happen — and soon.
“There is a lot of interest in keeping the status quo, because it suits some people really well,” Sebelius said. “We know that we need reform, because the current system is flawed, and even families with insurance are a step away… from being uninsured.”
Sebelius joked that under the current system, insurance is designed to be purchased, not used, because of the higher premiums that some providers assess the year after patients get sick.
“Everyone should have access to affordable health care,” Sebelius told the crowd, “and with your help, they will.”