Christine Stuart photo
US Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5 (Christine Stuart photo)

The prospects for health care reform have never been better in Washington, US Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5, told two state legislative committee’s Monday.

Now in his second-term, Murphy said he may be a “neophyte,” but he said he has a sense that “this is the moment” for large scale health care reform.

“You can just feel it in the air,” he said.

But it’s more than just a feeling.

President Barack Obama has made health care reform a priority, there’s more bipartisanship than suspected in the Congress, and in recent surveys the American public in light of the current economic crisis have said it’s more important than ever, Murphy told committee members.

In addition, the Democratic majority in Washington has all but guaranteed health care reform will pass this year by adding it to the list of measures that will be treated as part of the budget resolution process.

An arcane rule in the US Senate allows for one budget resolution vote, which only has to pass with 51 votes, instead of the 60-vote supermajority normally required to avoid a filibuster. With at least 58 Democrats possibly 60 in the Senate, it all but guarantees that the Democrats would not need a single Republican vote in the House or the Senate to pass some sort of health care reform measure.

Murphy said the budget resolution vote can’t be used before Oct. 15, so it gives lawmakers the summer to work out a bipartisan agreement.

Christine Stuart photo
Left to right: Rep. Steve Fontana, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, and Rep. Betsy Ritter (Christine Stuart photo)

What about the money?

Murphy said the budget Congress just passed sets aside $600 billion for health care reform.

“The money is there just waiting for a bill to be passed,” he said.

The health care reforms being proposed vary from a single-payer type health care system to changing the rules of the private insurance market to creating an individual mandate.

Murphy said the middle ground would be to mandate everyone have coverage, similar to the individual mandate Massachusetts currently has in place.

He said there’s also a proposed to have a federally sponsored health care plan compete in the private marketplace.

Joy Johnson Wilson, the director of health policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the legislative committees Monday that a public plan doesn’t exist yet. She said if you ask 10 people on Capitol Hill what a public plan means to them, you’ll get 10 different answers.

She said there are plenty of discussions about the issue, but many questions remain, such as will there be an individual mandate or employer mandate? Will there be a direct premium subsidy or a tax credit?

Wilson said she expects draft bills, which will begin to answer these questions, will be available in the next two to three weeks.