- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said Wednesday he wouldn’t support a health care reform bill if the cost reaches $3.5 trillion.

The bill his committee is considering hasn’t been analyzed yet by the Congressional Budget Office, which puts out the authoritative estimate of the budget impact. But an independent analysis, cited by Republicans on the committee, estimated that the bill would cost that amount.

“I’ll walk away from any bill that has this kind of cost,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

The Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees are holding separate hearings on the House health care bill today. In both committees, cost is one of the central issues.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the Energy and Commerce Committee in prepared testimony that the administration was open to new ideas about reform, but will oppose any plans that increase the deficit.

But Mrs. Sebelius added the administration could accept spending additional money on services that work.

The administration wants to “put money into areas where we think there will be much better results for patients,” she said, pointing to prevention efforts and programs to avoid hospital readmissions for patients.

In the Ways and Means Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce voiced opposition to the public option and plans to penalize employers who don’t provide coverage with an 8 percent penalty. Mr. Rangel pledged to compromise on some of the major business lobby’s issues.

“We’re not going to leave this train without you,” he said.

The House bill, written collaboratively by Democrats on the two committees as well as the Education and Labor committee, does not have a cost estimate, and there was no method to pay for the reforms written into the legislation, making cost a divisive issue.

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