Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brown helps forge Senate Democrats' health care deal

Sherrod Brown is one of five liberal Democrats who helped craft the U.S. Senate's latest health care deal, which would allow people age 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare. This New York Times analysis (registration required) says a lot about Brown's new role as negotiator.

Brown is one of the Senate liberals who fought hard to create a "public option," a government-run health care plan for the uninsured. But several moderate Democrats don't like the public option, and these days it takes 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate. So Brown became part of the "Team of 10," the five liberals and five moderates who met to try to forge a compromise all Senate Democrats can vote for.

The new deal would only create a public option as a fallback if other health care reforms fail to meet a goal of insuring a certain number of people. But the Team of 10 also propose a new idea: letting people buy into Medicare starting at age 55. That would advance the liberals' goals of insuring more people and creating more not-for-profit competition with private insurers.

"To satisfy the liberal Democrats, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio," the NYT story adds, "the agreement calls for the creation of a new menu of national insurance plans, modeled after those offered to more than eight million federal workers, including members of Congress, and their dependents."

Sounds like one of Brown's ideas caught on. He refuses to accept congressional health-care benefits, as a protest against the number of uninsured people in the country. Last week he signed onto a Republican dare, agreeing with them that if Congress creates a public option, all congresspeople should have to use it for their health-care coverage. Now the Team of 10 has jumped on the idea that congressional health care and new health care plans for the uninsured should look the same.

The deal still has to get 60 votes. Then, senators will have to negotiate with the House, which passed a different bill. But it's interesting to watch how Ohio's Democratic senator is wielding influence on the year's biggest issue.

Update, 12/15: Looks like Joe Lieberman, the stubborn independent and former Democrat, refuses to be the 60th vote for expanding Medicare. Senate liberals may be stuck with no replacement for the public option. They could still try to get Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican, to go for the public option as a backup -- or "trigger," as the buzzword goes. But it looks like the president wants to make a deal with Lieberman instead.

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