Capitol Hill Republicans, hammered repeatedly by the Democratic majority for nitpicking President Obama’s health care overhaul but not offering an alternative, say they’re keeping their cards close to the vest until the endgame on the House floor.
Republican officials say they won’t show their hand until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reveals the procedural rules Democrats will impose to control the amendment process and floor debate next week on the Democrats’ nearly 2,000-page health bill.
“We’re not going to give Democrats our playbook until we see theirs,” a Republican leadership aide said, not wanting to be named discussing legislative strategy.
Regardless of what tack Republicans take, the party is united in opposition to a plan it says is a government takeover of health care and is in pursuit of other solutions to reduce costs and expand coverage.
The onus remains on Democrats to round up the 218 votes needed to pass their health legislation, and to do it they will need the support of conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who are attuned to Republican criticism that the bill, among other things, makes cuts in Medicare, raises taxes and costs too much.
Democratic leaders hope to undermine the criticism by portraying Republicans as the “party of no” that doesn’t have its own fix for the ailing health care system.
“They know that their plan isn’t popular, so their strategy is to go out and demonize us,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “We’ve had plans out there for six months.”
Republicans this year introduced more than 50 health bills, including measures to reform medical-malpractice law, increase competition among insurers by allowing consumers to buy coverage across state lines, and provide tax credits to offset insurance premiums and other medical expenses.
None of the bills saw the light of day in the House and none likely will get a chance to be incorporated as an amendment to the Democrats’ health bill, which is slated to go to a vote in the House as early as Thursday.
“I think everybody knows there is a huge difference between an individual member putting in a bill and the House Republican leadership saying, ‘This is our alternative piece of legislation,’ ” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and special assistant to Mrs. Pelosi.
Mr. Van Hollen said the failure of Republicans to put forward a comprehensive bill more than four months after promising one shows a lack of consensus on the other side of the aisle.
“It is a clear sign that they don’t have a plan they are united behind,” he said. “Otherwise, they would put one on the table. Why not? Where is it? If you can hand it to me, I’d love to see it.”
Republicans insist they have a comprehensive plan, but are waiting to make it public, though Mr. Boehner said Friday on Fox News that consumers would be better off if Congress killed the Democrats’ bill and then used a “step-by-step approach” to pass eight or nine separate bills to retool health care.
Under the Democrats’ plan, nearly all Americans would be required to buy health coverage and most large employers would have to provide it, and tax credits would help low- and middle-income workers pay for insurance. It includes new taxes on the rich and on medical devices not sold in retail stores, and it estimates savings from cutting Medicare waste.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer has signaled that few, if any, amendments to the mammoth health bill be allowed before a final vote on the bill - a precedent he said a Republican-led Congress set in 2003 with a 900-page bill to expand Medicare drug benefits.
The Maryland Democrat did invite Republicans to offer a substitute bill for an up or down vote to replace the entire Democratic package, provided the substitute’s price tag is scored by the Congressional Budget Office and members have 72 hours to read the legislation, the same process followed for the majority’s bill.
“Your side has told me you have a bill. Somebody waved it around, as a matter of fact, on national television,” Mr. Hoyer said in an exchange Thursday on the House floor with Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
“Once we get the score, and the 72 hours’ notice of your substitute, we will be glad to consider it,” Mr. Hoyer said.
With that time frame, and with a vote on the Democrats’ bill tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Republicans are fast running out of time to put an alternative plan on the table.