- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

UPDATED:

Republicans lashed out Tuesday against the health care reform proposal in the Senate Finance Committee and Democrats proposed a slew of alterations, foreshadowing a rough road to final passage on President Obama’s top legislative priority.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, called the proposal from Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, a “stunning assault on liberty” and other Republicans blamed Democratic leaders for stymieing the progress being made by a bipartisan negotiating team.

Mr. Baucus already made changes to his health care reform proposal before the committee began its mark-up session Tuesday. He has reduced the penalty on families who fail to buy insurance and has provided subsidies to more of the poor who need help buying coverage.

Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the top Republican on the committee, blamed Democratic Senate leaders and the White House for rushing the process and undermining efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise.

“It seems that the White House and the [Senate Democratic] leadership from the beginning were really never going to give us time to get it right,” Mr. Grassley said in an opening statement as the committee began its work.

“Hopefully it’s not ended,” he said of the bipartisan talks. “But for right now it is.”

Democrats praised the chairman’s blueprint as a good start, but suggested a series of changes, from small details to major sticking points, such as creating a taxpayer-funded “public” insurance plan option.

“This is a good start,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “But I also believe there are things we must do to make it better.”

Mr. Schumer and at least two other Democrats on the panel have made it clear that they want the public option in the plan, but have not yet said whether they could support the overall bill without it. Mr. Baucus’s proposal would create insurance co-operatives instead of the controversial public insurance plan.

Mr. Baucus will have to balance the bill to keep liberal Democrats on board, while trying to attract at least a few Republican votes.

Six members of the committee, three Republicans and three Democrats, had been meeting for three months to try to strike a compromise deal. But in late July top Democrats and the White House said the group had to wrap up those talks by Sept. 15 or face a plan drafted exclusively by the majority Democrats.

Mr. Grassley said he asked President Obama in an Aug. 6 meeting to pledge publicly that he was not married to the public option. When that commitment wasn’t made, it became clear that the compromise wouldn’t be reached, Mr. Grassley said.

Mr. Grassley, who has a long record of working with Mr. Baucus, praised the Montana Democrat for his attempt to work with Republicans.

Republicans on the panel also spoke out against provisions in the legislation that they said would not do enough to prevent illegal immigrants from benefiting from the reform plans or prevent the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions.

Despite the criticisms from both sides, Mr. Baucus has said he expects to vote the bill out of committee by the end of the week.

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