- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Senate Republicans say they’re prepared to file dozens of amendments on the health care bill Democrats send to the floor, targeting proposals to cut Medicare spending and increase taxes, warning that the Democrats’ overhaul plans will raise insurance premiums for all Americans.

They also plan to target the likely requirement that all Americans purchase coverage and to address concern that the bill would allow for taxpayer-financed abortions and extend coverage or tax subsidies to people in the country illegally.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who will be one of the most vocal Republicans as the debate begins on the Senate floor as soon as this week, says the public doesn’t support Democrats’ extensive reform plans.

“I think health care is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. Grassley said in a recent interview, listing the bailout of General Motors Corp. and banks, the budget deficit, the Recovery Act and unemployment as programs that have angered the public.

“And then you have health care. During the summer it was estimated to be $300 billion, then $600 billion. Now $900 billion. A billion here and a billion here, and people think we’ve gone bananas. They’re scared about the future of America.”

Republican leaders have tasked Mr. Grassley, ranking member of the Finance Committee, as well as Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, with managing the opposition to the Democrats’ bill. They led Republican efforts as the bills passed in each of their respective committees with support of just one Republican, and both were involved in the so-called “Group of Six” talks on the finance panel.

Republicans plan to focus much of their argument against the Democrats’ bill — which hasn’t been released yet — on the impact it will have on seniors on Medicare and the insurance premiums of people who already have coverage. They say Democrats’ proposals, which may have wide support when talked about in broad theory, would really raise costs.

An Associated Press poll released Monday shows that Americans largely support the broad reform proposals, but when the proposals were matched with costs, support fell.

The poll found that 43 percent of Americans oppose the health reform plans being discussed on Capitol Hill. Another 41 percent support the plans, and 15 percent are neutral or undecided.

One of the most popular proposals — favored by 82 percent of people in a Pew Research Center Poll from October — is to ban insurance companies from denying patients based on their pre-existing conditions. However, when participants were told it would likely cause some people to pay more for insurance, support fell to 43 percent.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is expected to release a bill, based on legislation from the finance and health committees, and send it to the floor this week.

Republicans already have said that the bill Mr. Reid produces — which is expected to include a government-run insurance plan, require nearly all people to obtain insurance and implement new industry regulations — is going to be far too flawed to be fixed during the floor debate, pledging to vote against all the procedural moves required to get the debate rolling.

Democrats are expected to gather enough votes to allow debate. They say Republicans are just trying to derail health care reform.

“The American people want us to solve problems, not be partisan,” Mr. Reid said recently, “and so I once again call upon my Republican colleagues to join with us in the issues we’re trying to deal with the American people.”

Republicans say that already has failed.

Mr. Grassley said he tried the bipartisan route, toiling in hours of meetings with Finance Committee members in search of a compromise on the ideological differences that have divided the health care reform debate.

“I think as a minority, we have a responsibility to do two things: one, work in a bipartisan way,” Mr. Grassley said. “And I think I showed a good faith effort in doing that, but we failed and if you fail, you’ve got to have alternatives.”

While the talks didn’t lead to a deal, he said the process was a great education leading into the floor debate.

“The deeper you get into health care reform, the more complicated it is and the more questions you have,” he said. “And I know I’d hate to be dealing with this health care reform issue as a minority Republican, going to the floor for the first time, without the background I have from three months of negotiation and how I get educated as a result of that.”

The Senate’s version is expected to be more moderate than the landmark legislation passed by the House 220-215 last week and provide the underpinnings to legislation that would go to President Obama’s desk.

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