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Politics of Health Care Reform

Union leaders, progressive activists and officials from the AARP will rally outside Representative Patrick Kennedy's office today at 2 p.m., pressing the Congressman and Representative James Langevin to push for the more liberal House version of the health care reform bill.

They will urge Kennedy and Langevin to stand up for the more generous subsidies for health coverage found in the House bill. And they will call for opposition to a tax on high-cost plans that appears in the Senate version. The tax on the so-called "Cadillac" plans has stirred sharp opposition from organized labor nationwide. 

Both Kennedy and Langevin signed a letter, authored by Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney in October, urging the House leadership to oppose the tax on the "Cadillac" plans. The tax is one of the few measures in the bill that economists say could help curb health care costs. But opponents say insurance companies will pass along the costs to consumers, hurting middle-class and older folk, particularly in high-cost states.

Langevin's office said the issue will not be "make or break" in the Congressman's decision on whether to vote for the final bill. N4N is awaiting a response from Kennedy's office on that question and will post any update.

The tax, and a debate over abortion restrictions, are shaping up as the two biggest flashpoints in the high-stakes effort to meld the House and Senate bills. Langevin, a pro-life Democrat, worked with a small group of Congressmen on both sides of the issue to come up with compromise language on abortion. But when that effort failed, he voted for the relatively strong abortion restrictions that appeared in the House version.

If he votes for a final bill that includes both the abortion restrictions and some version of the Cadillac tax, that should in theory provide his primary challenger Besty Dennigan with ammunition to go pro-choice voters and labor - two key Democratic constituencies - asking for support. But Dennigan has not placed much emphasis on abortion thus far, preferring not to harp on a socially divisive issue when the economy is top-of-mind for most voters. And, as one observer noted, a risk-averse labor movement seems unlikely to break with Langevin over the Cadillac tax issue. Especially when scores of other labor-friendly Democrats will be forced to vote for the measure, too, in the quest for one of the most significant pieces of social reform in a generation - a must-pass for Democrats approaching challenging mid-term elections.

Indeed, a consensus seems to be forming that passage of the bill is a first step in what will be an evolving process of health care reform. The trouble, for liberals, is that they will probably have a harder time flexing their muscles if Republicans pick up seats in November, as expected.

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