WASHINGTON -- With the tight Senate passage of its health care bill on a straight party-line vote on Christmas Eve, President Barack Obama is planning to step up his involvement in the final health-care legislation, White House and congressional officials say.
At the same time, Republicans have ratcheted up their attacks on the legislation and begun approaching conservative Democrats to switch parties, in the wake of this week's unexpected defection of Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama.
Administration officials want what they view as must-have pieces in the final bill to be hashed out in January by House and Senate negotiators. To help pay for expanded coverage, they favor the Senate's tax on high-cost plans over the tax on the wealthy the House approved . The White House is pushing for a strong independent panel to assess Medicare spending and recommend cuts to Congress, according to administration and congressional officials. That is in the Senate bill but not the House version. Obama "will be taking a more active role," said White House health official Nancy-Ann DeParle.
The Senate voted 60-39 to approve the bill Thursday, a straight party-line vote. Only the retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., did not vote.
The administration is sensitive to criticism the legislation does too little to trim growth of costs. White House Budget Director Peter Orszag says the 40 percent tax on high-cost, or "Cadillac," plans will encourage employers to look for more thrifty coverage and discourage unnecessary procedures. Cost is the reason for favoring this as well as the Medicare commission.
Obama said in an NPR interview Wednesday that Cadillac plans "don't make people healthier but just take more money out of their pockets because they're paying more for insurance than they need to."