GOP Holds Back on Health Care Details

Posted August 5, 2009 at 6:24pm

House Republicans are finding that less is more when it comes to talking about their own proposals for reforming the health care system.

In June, House Republican leaders issued a four-page outline that included broad proposals but lacked details on how much it would cost, whom the plan would cover and how they would pay for it.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) promised they would have a bill and provide details later. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also promised that legislation would be forthcoming.

But nearly two months later, Republicans have apparently decided that keeping their bill under wraps is better politically than releasing details that would give Democrats room for a counterattack.

And so far, the hide-the-ball strategy appears to be working.

With poll ratings for the Democratic plan falling under constant GOP assault and risks inherent in presenting any proposal, Republican leaders have described their own prescription only in broad terms.

There won’t be a big new federal health care bureaucracy. There won’t be a new public insurance option to compete against private insurance plans. Individuals won’t have to buy insurance, and employers won’t have to provide it, although new tax credits would be included.

Rather than laying out details of its own bill, the GOP stepped up its attacks on the House Democrats’ 1,000-page bill, calling it a “government takeover— that would put Washington, D.C., bureaucrats in charge of health care.

Democrats, of course, have attacked Republicans repeatedly for failing to offer a bill of their own.

To combat those charges, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent an e-mail this week urging whip team members to point out that several House Republicans have introduced bills. Cantor also tells whip members to cite the reform ideas presented by the Health Care Solutions Group led by Blunt.

“Many Republicans have their own solutions for needed health care reform in America,— said one bullet point in the e-mail. “While the White House still does not have legislative text, many Republicans do.—

Republicans like Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and John Shadegg (Ariz.) are among the Members who have offered alternatives, although they haven’t been embraced by leadership and have controversial items in them. Ryan’s plan, for instance, would tax employer health plans and charge wealthier seniors higher premiums for their prescription drug coverage.

Ironically, Boehner praised the White House as smart last week for not having proposed an official administration bill: “Then everybody can go through every dot and [tittle] in it and pick out every little thing,— Boehner said.

Part of the problem is that Republicans disagree among themselves over what to do.

Some back taxes on high-cost health plans. Others vehemently oppose raising any taxes. Some Republicans have called previously for significant savings within Medicare and Medicaid; others have derided the $550 billion in cuts proposed by Democrats as hurting seniors.

But without new taxes, or big savings from Medicare and Medicaid, or new mandates on employers or individuals to buy insurance, it’s hard to pay for a plan and harder still to make a big dent in the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, said recently that the GOP bill had been sent to the Congressional Budget Office weeks ago but that they are still waiting on a score, which would detail what the plan would cost. His spokesman said Wednesday that they still haven’t gotten a score back.

Even if they get one, it’s not clear when the bill — or its price tag— will be released.

“The more the American people learn about the Democrats’ plan, the less they like it,— said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.

“As Republican Leader Boehner has said, our health care plan was released over a month ago and is widely known. We’re putting the finishing touches on the legislative text and will be ready to release it depending on how and when the Democratic leaders bring their bill to the House floor.—

Republicans decided not to offer their own plan during the markup of the Energy and Commerce Committee last week, after twice suggesting they would do so at press conferences where they complained the markup had been delayed.

At one event, they showed off boxes of amendments that they vowed to offer at an Energy and Commerce markup.

“So much for all of this bull about how Republicans have no plan,— Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said.

But as they did at the markups in the Ways and Means and Education and Labor committees earlier last month, Republicans offered a variety of amendments but no comprehensive alternative.

They did offer amendments that would have stricken portions of the bill that they find most objectionable, such as a public insurance option. They also proposed such ideas as capping medical malpractice awards and pooling insurance for small businesses.

And they attempted to nix Democratic proposals to eliminate subsidies for privately managed Medicare Advantage plans.

But some of those amendments, Democrats complained, would have ballooned the budget deficit because Republicans didn’t always offer corresponding budget cuts.

Democrats accused the Republicans of running scared.

“They haven’t produced a bill, and I think it’s because they are afraid to go one on one with us on the issues,— said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Assistant to the Speaker.

“They would rather try and limit the discussion by trying to encourage these right-wing mobs to drown out civil discussion,— Thornell said of recent disruptions at Democratic town-hall meetings.

Thornell’s attacks were dismissed by a GOP leadership aide who accused them of trying to divert attention from their own problems. “They have no more excuses or attacks to hide behind,— the aide said. “It’s their time to try to step up and govern, and they’re failing.—

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.