The only out lesbian in Congress said Wednesday she doesn’t believe LGBT-specific provisions will make it as part of health care reform, although she said she won’t know for sure until she’s seen the reconciliation package for the legislation.
Following a press conference, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told DC Agenda parliamentary rules prevent most of the LGBT provisions included in the House version of health care reform from being in the reconciliation package that will come before the chamber this week.
“Most of the provisions are not with budgetary impact and so — because of the Byrd rule and the rules of the Senate parliamentarian — are not eligible,” she said.
Two of the major LGBT provisions in the House version of the health care reform would eliminate the tax on health benefits received under employer plans and allow states to cover low-income people with HIV before they develop AIDS. Other language would provide for non-discrimination in health care and allow the federal government to collect health data on the LGBT population.
But these provisions are lacking in the Senate version of health care reform. For them to be part of the final legislation, they would have to be included in the reconciliation package the House is expected to vote on this week.
Asked whether the domestic partner tax penalty elimination or the early treatment for HIV provision were among those that couldn’t be part of the reconciliation package, Baldwin said, “My understanding is no. But until I see it, I won’t know for sure.”
But Baldwin said advocates aren’t giving up and will continue to pursue this language as part of other legislation.
“There will be any number of smaller health bills that will be addressed — as there are in any Congress — and we’re going to try to add those provisions to other legislation,” she said.
On another piece of legislation Baldwin was more optimistic. She said she’s hopeful action will come soon for the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligation Act.
The bill, which she sponsors, would enable same-sex partners of federal workers to receive the same benefits as the spouses of straight workers –including health and pension benefits.
“It’s cleared committee on both sides of the Capitol, and so I’m very hopeful that once we are done with the health care legislation and back to other matters that we’ll be able to move it quickly,” Baldwin said.
But Baldwin said she couldn’t offer a more definite time for when the legislation would come to either the House or Senate floors.
In the Senate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the sponsor of that chamber’s version of the bill, said he wouldn’t allow the bill to come to a floor vote until the U.S. Office of Personnel Management provides information on how to offset the legislation’s cost within the agency’s existing budget.
Baldwin said she’s expecting “any day” this offset information from OPM.
“They’ve assured us that they can fully offset it within their global budget, but we want to see the specifics,” she said.
There are high expectations for passage of the domestic partner tax relief, early treatment for HIV and domestic partner benefits for federal workers this year.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, named these legislative items as among the bills Congress would pass this year during a speech at a fundraising dinner last month.