N.J. Democrats Hold Out Hope For Health Care Solution

Courier-Post — Thursday, February 25, 2010

Courier-Post Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — On the eve of a White House summit on health care, some New Jersey Democrats expressed optimism that Congress will pass a reform bill this year.

Rep. Rob Andrews, the only New Jerseyan who will attend the summit, said the event will allow Democratic and Republican leaders to tone down their partisan rhetoric and seek bipartisan solutions.

"This is a clear and sincere attempt to try to find the common ground that I believe exists," said Andrews, who helped write the House version of health care reform legislation last year. "I will approach this . . . with no prejudgments or preconceived notions."

President Barack Obama convened an earlier health care summit last March to advance the biggest domestic priority of his first year in office. After months of increasingly partisan debate, the House and the Senate passed separate versions of health care reform late last year with virtually no Republican support.

Since then, a Massachusetts election has eliminated Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, damaging the prospects that Congress will approve a compromise bill.

The president announced a new reform proposal on Monday that includes elements from the House and Senate bills. His measure was immediately criticized by most Republicans, including those invited to today's summit.

A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows Americans overwhelmingly doubt the summit will result in a bipartisan agreement. Seventy-seven percent said Obama and congressional leaders probably will end up with nothing. Only 22 percent said there will be a deal.

Rep. Rush Holt said health care reform hasn't advanced because lawmakers spent most of last year focused on the politics of the issue.

"All the talk has been about procedure — how you get one more vote in the Senate, etc.," Holt said. "I think (the summit) will be the point at which we're going to talk abut the content of the health care legislation more than about the process."

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said it's time Republicans offer their own health care reform proposals instead of merely opposing Democratic plans.

Menendez heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which will challenge Republican Senate candidates and incumbents this year to say how they would improve health care and create jobs, Menendez said at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor newspaper.

Obama's new plan would cover 1 million uninsured Garden State residents, and the federal government would cover the entire cost of expanding Medicaid eligibility in the state from 2014 through 2017, said Ray Castro, an analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank.

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