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Gephardt Says Failure to Pass Health Bill Won’t Hurt Party

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From The Washington Post

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), acknowledging that time is growing short for action this year on President Clinton’s health care legislation, said Friday that he did not think failure would hurt the Democrats badly in the November midterm elections.

While holding out hope for passage of some version of a health bill, Gephardt told a group of reporters: “I don’t think we will be penalized greatly if people see we did our dead-level best and just couldn’t get it done.”

Some key House Democrats, notably Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell of Michigan, whose panel is deadlocked on health care, have been arguing that Democrats should take the issue back to the voters in the midterm elections and try again in 1995.

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But Gephardt is the first person in the leadership of the House or Senate to speculate publicly on the risks of failure. A White House official said the view there remains that every effort should be made to pass the bill this year, rather than risk having voters blame the Democrats for gridlock.

Gephardt said he is not giving up on possible health care action this year, noting that he had been encouraged by his own canvass of more than 60 uncommitted House Democrats.

“The message I’m getting is that their voters want this done and they (the members) are remaining flexible despite the objections some of them have to parts of the plan,” he said.

Gephardt tried without success to broker a compromise Democratic health plan in the last Congress. He began this latest effort during the Memorial Day recess, when it became clear that Dingell was stymied and when Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) was forced by his indictment to relinquish the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee without lining up enough votes to pass a health care bill in that panel.

Acting Ways and Means Chairman Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) has postponed any votes until at least Tuesday, saying the Congressional Budget Office has not come up with cost estimates on his variant of the Clinton plan.

And with another recess, for Independence Day, coming in three weeks, Gephardt conceded that it is virtually impossible to meet a July 4 deadline for having legislation ready for floor action.

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