- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2012

House Republican leaders are quietly working with Mitt Romney’s campaign to fashion a unified GOP health care platform to replace President Obama’s health law, according to lawmakers involved in the effort.

Hill Republicans said coordinating with Mr. Romney, who is the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, boosts the chances that the two sides can avoid clashing over one of the big issues of the fall campaign but it ups the chances that the House GOP will miss its self-imposed June deadline for rolling out its alternative to Mr. Obama’s blueprint.

“From the policy perspective, we can do all these great things, but if [Mr. Romney‘s] not on the same page with us, then that’s a recipe for political disaster,” Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican and a medical doctor who sponsored the medical-malpractice reform the House passed in March, told The Washington Times. “So, clearly, there has to be some coordination on all of that.”

The GOP took control of the House last year promising to “repeal and replace” Mr. Obama’s signature health law. So far, House Republicans have held dozens of votes on repeal, but they have yet to produce a broad replacement bill that would try to boost coverage without resorting to the mandate to buy insurance that Mr. Obama’s plan employs — a mandate that is now the subject of a Supreme Court challenge.

Democrats have increasingly mocked Republicans for having no alternative, but GOP leaders said it makes sense to delay and work with Mr. Romney who as Massachusetts governor helped produce his own state-level health care overhaul.

“The intent is, we’re not going to offer a specific plan until we coordinate with our presidential candidate and work elements of reform out so it will be sort of unified,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.

Mr. Pitts said that more senior House GOP officials are working on the timing. “That’s beyond my pay grade. That’s the speaker. They’re the ones doing that coordination,” he said.

A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner’s office referred questions to Cory Fritz, Mr. Boehner’s campaign communications director, who in turn referred questions to the Romney campaign. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul didn’t return requests for comment.

Health care will likely be at the center of both presidential and congressional campaigns this year, and will likely heat up even more after the Supreme Court rules, likely in late June, on whether the Democrats’ version is constitutional.

With the public still divided over the law, Democrats and Republicans are angling to spin the final ruling to their advantage, however the court decides.

But while they’ve spent the past two years slamming Mr. Obama’s law at every turn, Republicans have found it difficult to coalesce around an alternative, with lawmakers touting several different plans, a point Democrats are happy to highlight.

“They always said they didn’t like it, but they didn’t have an alternative,” said Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat. “And now at the beginning of this Congress when Republicans took power, they said they wanted to ‘repeal and replace,’ but they’ve never given us their replacement.”

Mr. Pitts had said late last year that Republicans hoped to have something ready to go in June, when the Supreme Court is expected to rule. But on Thursday, he said it’s unlikely they’ll have anything ready until the fall and even then, it may only be a collection of individual reforms instead of one big bill.

“We’re not going to come up with one single bill. There will be a whole host of health care reform items,” he said, adding they could include ideas Republicans have aired in the past, such as allowing interstate insurance sales, reforming medical malpractice, setting up insurance “pools” and extending the same insurance tax credits to individuals that employers now enjoy.

Mr. Gingrey said that type of approach would save Republicans from the same criticism they levied at Democrats, who passed the Affordable Care Act in a matter of days in 2010, leaving Republicans complaining that they hadn’t been given enough time to read the bill.

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