Healthcare - is the bipartisan sheen gone?

ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports:

Even as the pace quickens on healthcare reform, there are signs that the last sheen of bipartisanship is wearing off the process. For starters, Republicans are not in the room as Democrats draft the healthcare reform proposals.

There could be a lot of activity on healthcare reform over the next week or so. Democrats will release a list of the legislative options they are considering, brief Republicans on where they in the bill-writing process, and hold a public hearing on the options. Democratic staffers maintain that by the end of next week we will see a fully formed legislative proposal for healthcare reform.

Republicans, meanwhile, are in a tough spot. They want to oppose a public health insurance option, but they don’t want to oppose healthcare reform.

As the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it on the Senate floor this morning, “‘In America in 2009, doing nothing is simply not an option. We must act and act decisively. The question is not whether to reform health care. The question is how best to reform health care.”

On the first point he and the President and Democrats agree. On the latter point, the rift is becoming more apparent.

Republicans are not yet publicly complaining they’ve been cut out of the process. But there are signposts that healthcare reform is becoming more and more one-sided:

1. President Obama met only with Democrats, liberal and moderate, earlier this week to discuss healthcare reform. The subsequent letter outlining the principles he endorses yesterday was addressed only to the Democratic chairman of the two relevant committees.

2. The letter noted that both he and the Senators have tried to work with Republicans and said he hopes some will join on. But it did not offer any fig leaves across the aisle. He didn’t even cc them, according to the version of the letter released.

3. Every day this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been on the Senate floor slamming the idea of a public option, raising the specter of rationing and long delay in treatment. If there is a public option, he argues, it will eventually be the only option since a public option will kill the marketplace.

4. Despite McConnell’s very public speeches, Obama’s letter included his strong support for a public insurance option to work alongside private plans. It’s hard to envision a reform plan that would get McConnell’s vote. McConnell is the Republican leader for a reason; he’s a good bellwether for Republican senate conference.

5. Don’t forget that in Democrats’ hip pocket is the idea of using the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to pass healthcare reform on party lines. It was supposed to be kept as a last resort. But with Republicans out of the process, President Obama open to a mandate and endorsing a public insurance option, reconciliation is looking more likely.

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