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Smith warming to health care, Baird still undecided

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on March 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
March 19, 2010 9:55 am

More from our D.C. guy, Les Blumenthal:

WASHINGTON – With pressure mounting and a weekend vote likely, Washington Rep. Adam Smith was apparently edging closer to endorsing Democratic health care legislation Thursday.

Smith’s movement came after the Congressional Budget Office said it would cut the federal deficit by $138 billion over 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the following decade if approved.

“I think the CBO numbers are positive,” the Tacoma Democrat said in a statement.

Meanwhile, even after a lengthy Oval Office meeting with President Obama, Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, remained undecided.

“Nothing has changed,” said Adam Hudson, a Baird spokesman.

Baird, who is not seeking re-election, was being lobbied from as far away as the Washington state capital in Olympia.

In a letter, two legislative committee chairman urged him to support the measure.

“This has been a decade in the making,” said Democratic Sen. Karen Keiser and Democratic Rep. Eileen Cody.

“The opportunity is not coming our way again soon. Washington state needs the assistance that federal reform will bring in controlling the increasing fiscal impact of health care.”

Keiser chairs the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee. Cody chairs the House Health and Wellness Committee.

“With exponential costs projected, we cannot not afford to wait before making fundamental changes in our health care system,” they wrote.

The four other Democrats in the Washington state delegation are expected to support the bill, while the state’s three Republican House members will vote no.

Democratic leaders were closing in on the 216 votes needed to pass the measure, but they were still short. Democrats control 253 House seats.

Both Smith and Baird are considered fiscal hawks and have been concerned about the impact health care reform would have on the federal deficit.

“These numbers demonstrate that this bill will not only help reduce costs in the short term, but also help to reduce overall long term health care costs,” Smith said of the CBO numbers.

Baird has reportedly woken up in the middle of the night to read the Senate version of the health care bill, which the House is being asked to pass. Last week, he said he wouldn’t make up his mind until he had read everything.
Baird’s trip to the Oval Office on Tuesday was his first in his 12 years in office.

At the White House on Thursday, President Obama, for a second time, delayed his departure on a trip to Asia. Obama was originally supposed to leave Thursday and then Sunday. Now the White House says he’ll visit Indonesia and Australia in June.

House Democratic leaders on Thursday rolled out a series of changes to the bill that both the House and the Senate will eventually have to approve. Among other things, the changes would end the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole” and pick up all of the state’s costs of an expanded Medicaid system from 2014 to 2017. After that the federal support would gradually be reduced to 90 percent by 2020.

The changes would also scale back a new excise tax on high-end insurance policies and expand the reach of the Medicare’s payroll tax to cover wealthier people’s unearned income.

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