Washington » Two leading voices on health care from opposing sides agree that the government must adopt sweeping reform to insure all Americans and reduce costs.
But they also express some doubt that President Barack Obama and Congress will deliver on their promise for meaningful legislation this year.
Former Republican Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle struck a pessimistic tone in their health care debate at the National Press Club on Tuesday.
"I expect something will pass," said Leavitt, who served as President George W. Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary for four years. " I think it's going to be something they can claim a political victory on. Whether or not it will be real reform, I question."
Daschle said: "I think there is really only a 50-50 chance that something is going to pass."
That's a dour assessment from the man Obama wanted to lead the health care reform effort. He tapped Daschle to become his HHS secretary, but the former senator's nomination turned out to be short lived. Daschle stepped aside amid a scandal about unpaid taxes related to a car and driver provided by a Democratic donor.
Both Leavitt and Daschle remain active in the health care debate, working behind the scenes on the proposal that is expected to dominate Congress in coming months, particularly with Obama calling for an agreement by August.
The legislation now being crafted in the Senate will seek to provide insurance for the 50 million people without health care coverage, allow workers to take their plans with them when they leave their jobs and cut down on the rapidly escalating costs. Republicans and Democrats largely agree on the goals, but decades-old policy disagreements creep in when they try to find solutions.
The biggest sticking point between Leavitt and Daschle was the idea of a government-sponsored health plan competing against private insurance companies. Leavitt called it a "Trojan horse" for those who support government controlled health care. He said a public plan would stifle competition, expand the federal medical bureaucracy and do little to give consumers the necessary choices to drive down costs.
But Daschle sees a public plan as a key "lever for reducing costs," since the government could control what the plan covers and how much it costs, forcing the private market to respond.
Leavitt and Daschle, who have held three informal debates, found a number of areas where they agreed, including the need to boost health information technology and the likelihood that Congress will start taxing employer-provided health insurance, as they do privately purchased insurance, to help pay for an expanded system.