- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The White House criticized Monday one of the Senate Republicans working on a compromise health care reform bill as having given up on the effort for partisan reasons, shortly after conservatives chided him for even participating in the process.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming has “turned over his cards on bipartisanship” and efforts to forge a health care bill.

Over the weekend, Mr. Enzi said two reform proposals - the House bill and a plan passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - would add to the deficit, raid Medicare and not fix the health care system.

“We need reforms that will actually lower health care costs for working Americans, and we need to make sure we do not increase the deficit and add to the record debt we’re already passing on to our children and grandchildren,” the senator said Saturday in the Republicans’ weekly radio and Internet address. “The bills introduced by congressional Democrats fail to meet these standards.”

Mr. Gibbs said Mr. Enzi’s comments signal that he’s not willing to work on a bipartisan plan and were merely a regurgitation of generic Republican talking points.

“It appears that at least in Sen. Enzi’s case, he doesn’t believe there’s a pathway to get bipartisan support, and the president thinks that’s wrong,” Mr. Gibbs said. “I think that Sen. Enzi has clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship, and decided that it’s time to walk away from the table.”

An Enzi spokesman declined to make a specific comment on the Gibbs remarks, beyond saying that “Sen. Enzi remains committed to working toward a bipartisan solution to provide real health care reform.”

Mr. Enzi has also faced criticism from voters in conservative Wyoming, who questioned how closely he’s working with Democrats and President Obama, according to a report in the local Billings Gazette.

“If I hadn’t been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care,” he responded to angry questions last week in a Wyoming town-hall meeting concerning a “public option,” which many conservatives criticize as a path to socialized medicine.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the top Republican involved in the “gang of six” discussions, has faced his share of criticism as well.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America are airing an ad beginning Tuesday targeting the Iowa senator and his lack of support for the public option, a government-run insurance program that would compete with private insurers.

The groups raised $40,000 online as of Monday afternoon to fund the ad.

Early last month, Democrats derided Mr. Grassley for not stamping down “death panel” rumors about the House bill in his town-hall sessions. Republicans in the same meetings threatened to vote him out of office next year if he continued negotiations in the Finance Committee.

All six members of the Senate team have faced questions from voters about conceding too much to the other side by participating in the talks. Before they broke for the August recess, the group had been working behind closed doors for months trying to negotiate a compromise plan.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine is the other Republican in the group. The Democrats include Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, and Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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