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LI Dems in Congress hopeful on health bill; King gloomy

President Barack Obama speaks after the Senate passed

President Barack Obama speaks after the Senate passed their version of health care reform legislation at the White House Dec. 24, 2009 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images

Most Democratic members of the Long Island congressional delegation say the odds look good for passage of a health care reform bill in the new year. To which the sole Republican responds: Don't count on it.

With the Senate's 60-39 passage of the bill Thursday, the action shifts to a House-Senate conference committee that will try to fashion a compromise between the two versions.

"There absolutely will be a bill signed by the president that's pretty close to the Senate bill with accommodations on some of the things that we [House members] absolutely need to get," predicted Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights), the senior member of the delegation.

But Rep. Peter King said that even with the president's lobbying, "the odds are they're not going to make it." The Seaford Republican added that "it should be very difficult to get a bill because they're almost two entirely different bills."

"Many liberals in the House voted for it only because it had a public option, and that was taken out in the Senate," King said. "Many conservative Democrats in the House, probably at least 40 of them, said they only voted for it because of strong anti-abortion language that was taken out in the Senate. Then when you see the deals that were made for Nebraska and Louisiana we may have congressmen from other states who want to get deals for themselves."

King said in an election year it will be hard to get Democratic congressmen to vote for the bill if they consider themselves vulnerable in a conservative district.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), said she and other House members are troubled by how the Senate manipulated reimbursement on Medicaid to win over senators from Nebraska and Louisiana. Her biggest concern is that the Senate bill doesn't close the "doughnut hole" gap in which seniors have to pay for the entire cost in Medicare prescription drugs until they reach the catastrophic coverage threshold.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said many House members will have trouble voting for the Senate's tax on "Cadillac health plans," union coverage with higher benefits. "I think the fact that there is no public option will be a sticking point. The abortion language is going to be a sticking point. But we've got 60 senators and 220 members of the House of Representatives who are determined to have health care reform."

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who isn't certain legislation will pass next year, said, "Anybody who tells you that they can predict what's going to come out of conference has no clue."

New York's senior senator, Democrat Charles Schumer, said that "in conference we are going to try to get the best things for New York ." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand did not respond to requests for comment Thursday on the conference process.

About the bill,  Schumer (D-NY) said, “It cuts the waste, fraud abuse and duplication we all know permeates our health care system that drives costs up for families and, at the same time, covers millions of middle class people who are not covered right now.”

Schumer added that it shields 800,000 New York seniors from Medicare cuts; protects tens of thousands of New Yorkers jobs by preserving the special funding that New York hospitals get because they train such a high proportion of the nation’s doctors; will create hundreds of community health centers with reasonably priced services; and it will cover all children who don’t have health care and insure 1.7 millions New Yorkers who don’t have coverage now, more than most any other state.

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