Opposition lawmakers left talks with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom in the early hours of Thursday with some hope that an accord could yet be reached on a critical health reform that was unexpectedly voted down in the Senate on Tuesday.
“We saw some optimism in their eyes,” the leader of one of the two small Christian parties that backed the coalition’s health reforms told reporters after a second night of crisis talks.
Alexander Pechtold, the leader of the liberal Democrats, said progress had been made and talks would continue later in the day.
The leaders of the three opposition parties had joined the negotiations in the prime minister’s office for less than an hour.
Earlier, the leaders of Rutte’s liberal party, including Health Minister Edith Schippers, and the Labor Party leadership met separately behind closed doors in The Hague.
The liberals expect Labor to find a solution, because it were three of their senators who triggered the crisis when they voted against the health law, going back on the party’s word to support the reforms and blowing a €1 billion hole in the government’s budget.
The reforms — which would allow health insurers to limit their customers’ hospital choices to raise efficiency and reduce premiums — were painstakingly negotiated by Schippers with insurance companies, hospitals and three opposition parties.
The ruling Labor and liberal parties do not command a majority in the Senate, usually a sleepy constitutional body that can do little more than send legislation back to the lower house. The support of two small Christian parties and Pechtold’s liberal Democrats should have given the coalition a one-seat majority.
Other parties oppose the changes, meaning they cannot pass without the support of the full Labor Party.
The three Labor Party dissidents fear the reforms would give insurers too much power over health providers. They want Schippers — who is tipped as a potential successor to Rutte as liberal party leader — to make concessions. Schippers argues the ball is in Labor’s court.
Labor has tested the liberals’ patience before. Late last year, one of the same senators who blocked the health reforms on Tuesday threatened to hold up a housing bill. He was persuaded to vote with the government at the last minute — not by party leader Diederik Samsom, but by Social Affairs Minister Lodewijk Asscher.
Asscher is considered the better candidate to lead the party into the next election. Labor polls at between eleven and fifteen seats against the 36 it has now, which would make the once-dominant social democrats only the sixth largest party in parliament.
The liberals do poorly as well. They could lose fourteen seats out of 41 seats.
Many right-wing voters haven’t forgiven Rutte for raising taxes.
The liberal Democrats would benefits from early elections. Polls give them between twenty and 25 seats, which would make them virtually indispensable to any future coalition.