Meridian Star

National News

December 13, 2009

Medicare buy-in plan runs into Senate resistance

WASHINGTON (AP) — A plan to let people as young as 55 buy into Medicare, heralded as a breakthrough in the Senate’s health care debate, ran into resistance Sunday from lawmakers who can make or break Democrats’ efforts to reshape the nation’s health insurance system.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut declared the early Medicare buy-in a bad deal for taxpayers and the deficit. He pleaded with Democrats to start subtracting expensive proposals from the overhaul, saying, ‘‘We don’t need to keep adding onto the back of this horse or we’re going to break the horse’s back and get nothing done.’’

Lieberman conveyed similar sentiments to Majority Leader Harry Reid in a private meeting later in the day.

Government accountants are poring over the latest compromise proposals to see how much they would cost, and some lawmakers are reserving judgment until that plays out this week. ‘‘The whole reason we’re doing this bill is to bring down cost, first for the American people in health care, and secondly for the deficit,’’ said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. ‘‘So until we get the numbers back from the Congressional Budget Office, we’re all on hold.’’

Asked if she would vote against the bill if it raised health care costs overall, she said, ‘‘Absolutely.’’

In the meantime, only a few moderates have come out against the Medicare plan. But in a legislative struggle that is a game of inches, Democrats need all 60 votes in their caucus, and they don’t yet have them.

‘‘I think it’s going to pass out of the Senate before Christmas,’’ President Barack Obama told CBS’ ‘‘60 Minutes’’ in an interview airing Sunday night. Lieberman said there was a chance, if Democrats ‘‘bring in some Republicans who are open-minded.’’

But Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said no way: ‘‘With the American people as overwhelming opposed to this bill as they are, for the Democrats to basically arrogantly take the position that we’re going to ignore public opinion and jam this through before Christmas, I think that’s really a stretch,’’ said McConnell, R-Ky.

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