Health reform legislation advances in two key Senate and House committees

June 09, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- As pivotal committees met on both sides of Capitol Hill yesterday, health care legislation advanced in the Senate, and its prospects brightened in the House.

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee voted to require employers to pay most of the cost of health insurance for their workers and to limit increases in insurance rates. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the committee chairman, said he expected final committee approval of the bill today.

And Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee emerged from a private meeting on a health care overhaul with their new acting chairman, Rep. Sam M. Gibbons of Florida, saying that they would have the votes to send their version of the measure to the full House for a vote.

Mr. Kennedy's bill is closely patterned on President Clinton's, though it would lighten the burden on small business.

Mr. Gibbons' measure has a few more differences from the president's plan. But on both sides of the Hill, the critical question is less what is in the bills and more one of getting them to votes by the full House and Senate, for the inevitable shaping and reshaping.

While the Senate labor committee's approval has been guaranteed since Mr. Clinton first proposed his legislation, the prospects on the Ways and Means Committee have been less certain.

With all 14 Republicans likely to vote against the bill, supporters will need the votes of 20 of the 24 Democrats.

Some feared that the indictment and removal of the committee's longtime chairman, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, would make assembling that majority much harder. Yesterday, Mr. Gibbons and other Democrats on the committee said they were sure a majority was in reach. Leaving the meeting, Mr. Gibbons was asked if he would have the votes.

With a grin, he replied, "Oh, sure, we'll get it worked out."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said the bill had been strengthened by recent changes in its financing mechanism and reduced costs to small business. Because of them, he said, "I think we'll get 20 votes."

Committee members said some tinkering with the bill remained to

be done. But basically, the bill would require employers to pay 80 percent of their workers' insurance premiums.

It would establish a new arm of Medicare to provide medical coverage for the poor and others not insured through their jobs or those of someone in their family.

It would try to hold down costs by claiming for the government the surplus created when more than one person in a family has employer-paid insurance.

In contrast, the Clinton and Kennedy bills would cut that cost to employers when their workers came from two-income families.

In the Senate labor committee, the bipartisanship on display when the committee began its work late last month had waned, and solid or almost solid party-line votes determined the important issues yesterday, as the committee met for more than nine hours.

But Mr. Kennedy always rallied a majority. When Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., said more time should be taken before rushing into the limits on insurance premium increases, Mr. Kennedy answered sharply, "We've been meeting and meeting and meeting."

He added, "We may not have it right, but I think we're as close to it as we are going to get at this particular time."

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