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  Senate Democrats Close to Dropping Medicare Expansion  

In what the AP (12/15, Espo) calls an attempt to assure "Christmas-week passage of the bill to extend coverage to tens of millions," Senate Democrats are reportedly close to abandoning a plan to expand Medicare, which had been added last week to their healthcare reform bill. The AP adds that "liberals sought the Medicare expansion as a last-minute substitute for a full-blown, government-run insurance program that moderates earlier insisted be jettisoned. But it drew strong opposition from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and quieter concerns from a dozen Democrats."


        McClatchy (12/15, Lightman) reports, "Democrats emerged from a one-hour, 45-minute private meeting Monday night and indicated that the Medicare proposal, which party leaders first floated last week as part of a tentative deal between moderates and liberals, could be gone." The Los Angeles Times (12/15, Levey, Hook) notes that "even several leading liberal lawmakers appeared resigned to the collapse of their dream of including either a new 'public option' or an expansion of the existing Medicare program." The Times adds that "the death knell of the Medicare buy-in proposal came Sunday, when" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called Sen. Lieberman "to his office after his appearance on 'Face the Nation.'" Lieberman "met with Reid as well as White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, deputy chief of staff Jim Messina and Nancy Ann DeParle, the head of the White House Office of Health Reform." In fact, Politico (12/15, Brown, Raju) reports, the move to drop the Medicare plan came after Emanuel urged "Reid to cut a deal with Lieberman on reform, according to a source close to the negotiations."


        In a front-page story, the Wall Street Journal (12/15, A1, Hitt, subscription required) quotes Reid as saying after the meeting, "Democrats aren't going to let the American people down. ... We all stand shoulder to shoulder." ABC World Newss (12/14, story 2, 2:10, Karl) reported that "Reid railed against Republicans" on Monday "for stalling the healthcare bill, but Reid's real problem is in his own party. ... The challenge for...Reid: with no Republican support, every Democrat can be a king. He needs every single one of them to defeat a Republican filibuster. That means Lieberman can kill it and so can Ben Nelson, who also doesn't like expanding Medicare and says he can't vote for the bill unless it includes tighter restrictions on abortion funding."


New York Times (12/15, Hulse, Pear) reports, "Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the health committee, appeared to be laying the groundwork for a decision to abandon the Medicare buy-in." Sen. Harkin said, "There is enough good in this bill that we ought to move it" even without the Medicare provision. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), "who switched parties earlier this year to become a Democrat, urged his colleagues not to let obstructionists stand in the way. 'I came to this caucus to be your 60th vote,' he said to a round of applause."


        The Hill (12/15, Rushing, Bolton, subscription required) notes, "Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) said the general consensus at the meeting Monday was that dropping the Medicare buy-in provision was 'necessary' to salvage the rest of the legislation." Harkin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), The Hill adds, "also confirmed the Medicare buy-in would be dropped."


        The Washington Post (12/15, Murray, Montgomery), meanwhile, reports that "the full contents of the legislation probably will not be known until Tuesday, at the earliest, when the Congressional Budget Office is expected to provide an official cost analysis." USA Today (12/15, Fritze), CongressDaily (12/15, Edney, Friedman, subscription required), the Washington Times (12/15, Haberkorn), Roll Call (12/15, Pierce, Drucker, subscription required), and FOX News (12/15) also cover the story.


        Sen. Lieberman's opposition to Medicare buy-in sparks outrage among liberals. Sen. Joe Lieberman's (D-CT) announcement on Sunday that he would filibuster any Senate healthcare reform bill that includes a Medicare buy-in has sparked a wave of notably harsh criticism from liberal supporters of the Democrats' reform plan. In a front-page story, the New York Times (12/15, A1, Herszenhorn, Kirkpatrick) reports that Sen. Lieberman "threatened on national television to join the Republicans in blocking the healthcare bill, President Obama's chief domestic initiative," but "within hours, he was in a meeting at the Capitol with top White House officials." According to the Times, Democratic senators "suggested that they were on the verge of bowing to Mr. Lieberman's key demands," although "many Democrats" have "suggested he is catering to insurance industry interests back home." The Times adds that "campaign finance advocates" claim Lieberman is "an insurance industry puppet," who "wants to protect private health insurers from competition because he has received more than $1 million insurance company campaign contributions since 1998."


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