(CNSNews.com) – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told physicians and others at the American Medical Association conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday that President Barack Obama will not start from scratch on health care legislation and will “move forward” to get a bill passed.
“The president’s intent is to speak on Wednesday, tomorrow, about his preferred pathway forward, to continue to work with members of Congress,” Sebelius said. “He is very serious about continuing the dialogue and including the best ideas, whether they come from Republicans or Democrats, in the proposal as it moves forward, but to continue to move forward.”
She said there was “overlap” of what Republicans and Democrats want in health care legislation, including the elimination of waste and fraud in the government-run Medicare and Medicaid programs, but Sebelius said Obama and Democrats are still dedicated to universal health care.
“There clearly is an interest on behalf of the president and the Congress, making sure that, at the end of the day, everyone has coverage,” Sebelius said. “That is a Democratic idea that is not likely shared by a lot of Republican members of Congress. So there is an area of disagreement.
“There is an area of disagreement on what exactly is the best pathway forward,” Sebelius said. “A number of the Republican members would prefer to set a year’s work aside and, as they say, start over.
“But the incremental steps along the way would not lead to comprehensive reform at the end of the day, even if you did them a step at a time,” Sebelius said.
The Health and Human Services secretary also charged that the Republicans are trying to block progress on health care reform.
"Unfortunately, we’ve seen an example, just last week, about what the politics of obstruction look like," Sebelius said, adding that Democrats sponsored legislation that passed in the House and Senate to extend a freeze on Medicare physician fee schedules through the end of March – a hot topic for doctors at the conference who could face a 21 percent cut in payments if the freeze is lifted.
Until Monday, the bill -- which also extends funding for other programs, including unemployment benefits -- had been stalled in the Senate because of the opposition of Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who opposed it because it will add to the deficit. Bunning released his hold on the bill on Tuesday, and the Senate passed it Tuesday night.
Obama is expected to unveil his latest health care plan on Wednesday as Democrats scramble to get the votes they need to pass legislation, although they have majorities in both the House and the Senate and both chambers passed health care bills late last year.
“The push is comprehensive because the problem is comprehensive and pieces are attached to one another,” Sebelius said.
In the House of Representatives, Democrats outnumber Republicans 255 to 178 (and there are two vacancies). In the Senate, Democrats hold 57 seats and Republicans 41; the two Independents, Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut caucus with the Democrats.
The Senate health care bill (HR 3590) passed on Dec. 24, 2009 along party lines – 60 Democrats in favor, 39 Republicans opposed (Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., did not vote). The House health care bill (HR 3962) passed (220-215) on Nov. 7, 2009.