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Hatch Withdraws From Bipartisan Health Talks

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Orrin Hatch announced Wednesday that he has removed himself from the ongoing bipartisan health care negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a veteran of bipartisan health care efforts, acknowledged Wednesday that he has removed himself from the bipartisan health care negotiations going on in the Senate Finance Committee, saying he was unhappy with the direction of the talks and didn’t believe he would be able to support the final deal.

Hatch, who lauded Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) leadership, emphasized his respect for the efforts of the group of three Democrats and three Republicans. But as the talks progressed over the past several weeks, he said it became increasingly clear that the group was likely to adopt legislation that would cost too much and give Washington too much power over the health care system.

“I really commend them for the effort. What I don’t want to do is mislead people by continuing to be in the meetings when I disagree with much of the direction I feel they have to go,” Hatch said in an interview. “I mean, I know what they’re going to do, to a large degree.”

Hatch listed a range of policy disagreements with the decisions being made by the bipartisan group, which includes Baucus, Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.), and GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa). Among the most “problematic” for Hatch, the Senate’s most senior Republican, is the total cost of the bill — this despite Baucus’ pledge to keep the 10-year price tag under $1 trillion without adding to the deficit.

Additionally, Hatch said he cannot support a federal mandate for employers to provide health coverage, saying he believes it would cost jobs and impede the nation’s economic recovery. Hatch also expressed concern that the negotiators are set to agree to an expensive expansion of Medicaid, with the states footing the bill.

And then there’s the debate over whether to implement a government-run, public insurance option as a part of health care reform. The bipartisan negotiators on Finance have indicated they’re going to bridge the partisan divide on this issue by going with Conrad’s proposal for a nonprofit medical cooperative. But Hatch said key Democrats on Finance, particularly Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), would never allow it.

“Schumer made it very clear that he’ll go along with cooperatives as long as it’s a national cooperative. Well, c’mon,” Hatch said. “It will ... kill the competitive private insurance market. There are so many things they’re stuck with that I just can’t agree with.”

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