When the 113th Congress concludes Jan. 3, three of the most powerful Democrats on healthcare issues will be out of Congress: Reps. Henry Waxman and George Miller of California, and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan.
Dingell, part of the majority who helped pass Medicare in 1965, fought for a vision of healthcare for all Americans dating back to the Kennedy administration. Waxman and Miller have joined Dingell in working to expand the federal role in this area for 40 years.
Right now, it is unclear who will be congressional Democrats’ next generation of leaders on healthcare. With Republican opponents of the President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or ACA (approved on a party-line vote in 2010) about to take control in both Houses of Congress, the lack of big Democratic proposals "leaves the healthcare law open to change," Politico reports.
Some Democrats say they are hopeful that the changing of the guard will help make it possible "to focus on healthcare issues that don’t automatically put both parties at each other’s throats," according to the magazine.
"Healthcare has been in lockdown for the last four years," said Sen. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, who took a leading role in pro-Obamacare messaging this year.
"My hope is that the healthcare debate will loosen up as the ACA settles in," he told Politico.
Democrats like Murphy and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington have indicated that are interested in taking small steps including areas such as improving mental health coverage, while Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland speaks about improving delivery systems.
Democrats have indicated that these might be areas for bipartisan cooperation.
Other Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia, have raised the possibility of adding features to Obamacare such as lower-cost "copper" health plans and exempting more firms from the employer mandate.
Manchin said he plans to forge ahead with the idea in the Republican-led Senate, saying he is "hopeful that we can get together and do something in a bipartisan way."
On the other hand, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is replacing Waxman as ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sounded less enthusiastic about the idea, saying that the ACA "should have an opportunity to play out for a while before you talk about any changes."
There have been rumblings of displeasure over Obamacare lately from longtime supporters like Sen. Charles Schumer
, a New York Democrat who said that pushing for it had been a mistake.
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