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GOP Launches Strategy to Trip Up Health Bill

“The votes are the reality, so the only way you win this thing if you’re in our camp is if the American people are completely on your side,” a senior Republican Senate aide said. “To have a positive outcome and get back to doing what we think is good for our health care system, we need to have the American people understand this thing.”

And just in case that isn’t enough, Republican leaders last week began playing the process card, accusing the Democrats of backroom dealing and rushing to pass a bill before the public can figure out what’s really going on. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is demanding the final package be posted on the Internet for “a minimum” of 72 hours prior to being introduced on the floor.

“Right down here in the Majority Leader’s conference room they’ll be writing the real bill,” McConnell told reporters last week, adding: “Once it’s on the floor, what is a reasonable amount of time to spend in the United States Senate debating one of the most important issues we could ever have before us?”

McConnell said Republicans are going to “insist” on several weeks of debate and argued an issue like health care — equivalent to 20 percent of the national economy — deserves more than the four weeks accorded the most recent farm bill and at least as much time as the seven weeks given the No Child Left Behind education reform effort and the eight weeks given to an energy bill earlier this decade.

The Republicans also plan to use the time between now and a final floor vote to deliver a narrowly focused message via a series of floor speeches, press conferences and media appearances. And even though GOP Members will discuss their counterproposals for health care reform, criticism of the Democratic bill will be the priority.

Obama has said he will not sign a health care bill that costs more than $1 trillion over 10 years and adds to the federal deficit. But even if the final Senate bill meets these requirements, as the $829 billion Finance package does, Republicans are prepared to pounce. The final measure will be some combination of the Finance package and competing legislation approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The GOP will argue that no bill that relies on tax or fee increases can be considered deficit-neutral. Additionally, they will push to enlist the opposition of the all-important seniors vote — seniors are reliable voters, particularly in midterm election years — by continuing to flog the Medicare cuts that Republicans believe will be a part of any final bill.

Republicans also intend to try to personalize the issue, charging that the Democratic health care agenda will raise insurance premiums on individuals and families, while failing to lower the overall amount of money that the U.S. spends on health care.

The GOP made those arguments last week about the Finance package, even though the nonpartisan CBO predicted the bill would reduce the deficit, even as it extends coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. However, the bill is deficit-neutral in part because it raises revenue from taxes and fees on the medical industry and gold-plated health care insurance plans.

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