Frank says LGBT still have chance in health reform bill

Barney Frank

Barney Frank

News on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning suggested there was little hope for keeping pro-LGBT provisions in the health care reform legislation Congress hopes to pass. But Rep. Barney Frank says he’s still “somewhat optimistic.”

According to The Hill, a newspaper that serves Capitol Hill readers, leaders of the House and Senate decided Tuesday evening to stick with the Senate version of the health care reform bill—the one without any pro-gay provisions—rather than go through a conference committee negotiation to merge the two versions. The paper said the decision was made on Tuesday night in a meeting that included only President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Under that scenario, the House would be able to amend the Senate bill and send it back to the Senate for a final vote, but the likelihood of pro-LGBT amendments being accepted onto a bill that has already been ravaged with controversy –over how and whether abortions could be covered and the exclusion of a government-run option for insurance— seems small.

But Rep. Frank says there’s still plenty of room for negotiation with the Senate over the legislation to keep some of the pro-LGBT provisions passed as part of the House bill.

“There will still be negotiation between the House and the Senate over what’s in the bill,” said Frank, adding that, because the House will apparently have to make some concessions on major issues, it may have some leverage to keep the pro-LGBT provisions.

Meanwhile, Republicans are reportedly still trying to kill the bill, whatever form it takes, by persuading conservative Democrats to vote against it. Frank says it will be important for LGBT people and their supporters to lobby these conservative Democrats to continue supporting the legislation.

The vote margins in both the House and the Senate were very narrow on initial passage, leaving the effort to pass a bill without a conference fight a still uncertain future. In addition, legal challenges are brewing over enticements that were added to the Senate bill in order to win enough votes for passage there.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), an openly gay representative and strong advocate for both health care and LGBT civil rights, did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the overall bill and the pro-gay amendments she helped champion. Among them were ending the current tax inequity for gay employees who cover their partners or spouses on their work health insurance coverage, prohibiting discrimination in health care based on “personal characteristics,” and launching studies to end health disparities for people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Human Rights Campaign, in response to a request for comment, issued this statement suggesting it is not yet giving up:

“The decision to forgo a traditional conference does not change the fact that the negotiations between House and Senate leadership to complete health care reform will undoubtedly be complex and difficult on a range of issues. We will continue to strongly push the congressional leadership to ensure that critical protections for LGBT people included in the House-passed bill are part of the final measure.”

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