Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Democratic Leader Kicks off Debate over Health Reform

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Democratic Leader Kicks off Debate over Health Reform

Article excerpt

Hearst Newspapers

WASHINGTON _ With President Clinton's health care plan under heavy fire, Congress began crafting its own version of health reform Tuesday, with a key Democratic lawmaker proposing an alternative that borrows some ideas from Clinton's blueprint but scraps others.

The House Ways and Means subcommittee on health used as its starting point a 167-page proposal by California Democrat Fortney "Pete" Stark, the panel's chairman.

Both the White House and Stark proposals would require employers to pay for most of their worker's health insurance premiums, and both would cap future medical expenditures.

But Stark's plan would create voluntary, regional health alliances designed to hold down health costs, while Clinton would make the alliances mandatory. And unlike Clinton, Stark would allow Americans to keep their private health insurance they now have.

The opening day of the subcommittee's "mark-up" _ a legislative term for writing a bill _ was devoted to speechmaking by lawmakers, followed by a page-by-page reading of Stark's plan.

"Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that this bill will give everyone something to complain about," Stark quipped as he opened the historic session.

As the large crowd in the ornate Ways and Means Committee room erupted in laughter, the maverick Californian added: "In fact, if there aren't complaints from all sides, I will start thinking about changing the bill."

With his Democratic colleagues divided and unsure of victory, Stark may not have any choice in the matter. Rep. Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., said Stark lacks the votes to move his bill, as written, into the full House Ways and Means Committee, the next legislative step.

"We undertake today what is truly a living, dynamic process," Levin said. "The final document _ in this subcommittee and hereafter _ will differ substantially from what we see today."

Still, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle applauded Stark for kicking off what is likely to be a bruising legislative battle.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., praised Stark's proposal, saying that while "similarities exist between the president's and Stark's proposals, our chairman's plan is more realistic and less disruptive than the president's. …

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