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GOP Launches Strategy to Trip Up Health Bill

Correction Appended

Senate Republicans, acknowledging they lack the votes to block a health care reform bill outright, have implemented a comprehensive political strategy to delay, define and derail.

With Democratic leaders and White House officials holed up in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office negotiating a final bill, Republicans are demanding a deceleration of the process and moving to define whatever plan that emerges as a combination of Medicare cuts, tax increases, higher insurance premiums and rising overall costs.

“Where they’re headed is inconsistent with the American people, so I’m not sure it’s as much about us as it is about making sure that the American people express their deep concerns over this,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said last week. “Certainly they’ve got the votes, but they’re going to have to hold every one of them in the United States Senate to make it through this.”

Senate Democrats are rejecting Republicans’ demands to slow things down, charging that the GOP isn’t interested in working with the majority to craft a bipartisan health care bill. Rather, Reid said repeatedly last week, the Republicans’ primary goal is to sink reform in order to undercut President Barack Obama.

Negotiations on a final Senate bill are set to resume today with Reid, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and senior White House officials. Republicans have not been invited to participate in the talks, although Reid said Thursday that he has reached out to a few GOP Senators and is likely to consult moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine). Snowe was the lone Republican last week to support the Senate Finance Committee’s version of a health care overhaul.

“There are challenges that lie before us because the Republicans are going to insist that we do it alone,” Reid told reporters.

Unable to mount a filibuster on their own and calculating that Democrats are on track to send a health care bill to Obama by year’s end, Senate Republicans figure the only way to stop or reshape the measure is to give the public enough time to figure out what’s in it and what they don’t like about it.

Doing that is going to take some time, and the process of amending bills during a floor debate — which can include demanding a 60-vote threshold for all amendments — could provide the minority ample opportunity to slow things down. Republicans could also benefit from some built-in delays, including the fact that Democratic leaders have said they’d like to wait for a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate on the bill before beginning debate.

This process could repeat itself when the chamber prepares to consider the final House-Senate conference report. Earlier in the year, Republicans were hoping that Democratic divisions would do to Obama’s health care agenda what the GOP can’t, but they no longer expect moderate Democrats to stand in the way of passage — even one that includes a public insurance option.

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