Up against an overwhelming Democratic majority, Republican arguments against the health care reform plan so far largely have been limited to requests to slow down the process, maintain some fiscal restraint and make Democrats live up to President Obama’s promises.
In what could be a sign of what’s the come when the health bill gets to the Senate floor, Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee say they’re not going to put forward a large alternative to the Democrats’ reform proposals.
Instead, they want what they call a “targeted” approach to fixing what’s wrong with the system. But so far they’ve only put forward offers that have been quickly shot down by Democrats, including requiring members of Congress go on Medicaid, the assistance program for the poor, and full scoring of every amendment the chairman rejects.
“All the amendments today are not [a] health reform plan, but rather they’re attacking this, attacking that, something here, something there,” said Finance Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, during the committee’s markup session last week. “I don’t know what the Republican alternative is. … I don’t see a massive or a big, large proposal on the other side for an alternative. I don’t see one.”
Republicans say that’s exactly the point.
“We don’t believe in a massive government takeover,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and minority whip. “That’s the fundamental difference between what the [finance proposal] does and what Republicans are for. The [proposal] says we can’t do what we want to achieve unless we basically scrap what we have and substitute a new government takeover of how insurance is going to be offered in this country and the net result of that is going to affect how your care is delivered in this country.”
Republican Sens. Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah have requested that lawmakers start the health care reform debate over again. Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine - all members of the so-called “gang of six” that tried to reach a compromise with Democrats - have said the process was moved too quickly and debate was curtailed by Democratic leaders.
A series of amendments strongly favored by liberal Democrats - such as the public insurance plan, an employer mandate to provide insurance and more generous subsidies for the poor - are expected to be introduced this week.
The bill is expected to pass through the Finance Committee relatively intact. The conservative-moderate makeup of the committee suggests that few of the proposals strongly favored by liberals are likely to make it through.
Republicans’ attacks on those arguments, expected to happen in committee this week, could offer a preview of their argument when they reach the Senate floor, which could be fertile ground for such proposals.
But the Republican strategy, so far, doesn’t have much to show for it.
One of the most substantial Republican arguments - and one that shows signs of resonating with the public - came from Mr. Bunning. It called for the entire bill to be posted online in legislative text for three days before the committee casts its final vote. The Congressional Budget Office would also have to submit a full analysis of the bill - requiring two weeks of work.
In nearly two hours of debate on the amendment, Democrats argued that the legislative text is complex and that the “plain English” version the committee uses would be easier to understand, and that the amendment is merely a delay tactic.
Republicans argued that after years of waiting for health care reform, two more weeks was a small price to pay.
But the vote failed, with all Democrats voting it down except for Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who voted with Republicans for it.