U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal told a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce committee Wednesday that he is displeased with the way President Barack Obama and Congress are handling the health care bill.
Deal, R-Gainesville, criticized Obama for urging House and Senate Democrats to bypass the usual procedures to get a final health care bill as quickly as possible.
Deal said the House will now modify the Senate’s last version of the bill and send it back to the Senate for review. If the Senate accepts the amendments to their bill, it will be the final vote.
"The House (of Representatives) will take the Senate bill and tweak it," Deal said. "The process of tweaking will be totally excluding Republican input."
The aim is to get a final bill to Obama’s desk before the State of the Union address sometime in early February.
Facing the need to maintain a tenuous 60-vote coalition in the Senate, House Democrats will probably have to give up on starting a new government insurance plan to compete with the private market, something that’s a nonstarter with Senate moderates. In its place they hope for more generous subsidies for lower-income families to buy health insurance.
Deal said it is unusual for a contentious bill to be passed before going through a conference committee.
"That is a much more short-circuited process," Deal said.
Typically two variations of a piece of legislation go to a conference committee, which has the authority to revise it and bring it back before both bodies.
"I can understand the politics of that," Deal said. "By not going to a conference committee they don’t have to appoint Republican members of the conference committee so, therefor, this behind-the-door tweaking can all be done with Democratic leadership."
Deal was invited by chamber president Kit Dunlap to provide an overview to the chamber’s health care committee about the course the health care bill has taken in Congress this year and share his concerns about what could happen in the future.
The chamber committee meets periodically to discuss health care-related issues that impact Hall County.
Those in attendance voiced concerns about the costs health care reform would have locally.
"To me that is a very real problem," Deal said.
The bills passed by the House and Senate both would require nearly all Americans to get coverage and would provide subsidies for many who can’t afford the cost, but they differ on hundreds of details. Among them are whom to tax, how many people to cover, how to restrict taxpayer funding for abortion and whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to buy coverage in the new markets with their own money.
Concerns about affordability are paramount. Major subsidies under the bills wouldn’t start flowing to consumers until 2013 at the earliest. Even with federal aid, many families still would face substantial costs.
The House bill would provide $602 billion in subsidies from 2013-19, covering an additional 36 million people.
The Senate bill would start the aid a year later, providing $436 billion in subsidies from 2014-19, and reducing the number of uninsured by 31 million.
But sweetening the deal for low- and middle-income households could require more taxes to pay for additional subsidies. And the House and Senate are also at odds over whom to tax. The House wants to raise income taxes on individuals making more than $500,000 and couples over $1 million. The Senate would slap a new tax on high-cost insurance plans. Although the Obama administration supports the Senate’s insurance tax as a cost-saver, labor unions, which contribute heavily to Democratic candidates, are against it.
The House may end up accepting the insurance tax if it hits fewer people than the Senate’s design now calls for. There also could be common ground in a Senate proposal to raise Medicare payroll taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples over $250,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report