Last month I wrote about how a handful of Republicans were confidently touting the possibilities for bipartisan health care reform, but in the past few weeks, the gulf between the two parties has begun to widen. Take the cases of Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, and Mike Enzi — Republicans that would have to be onboard if the White House has any hopes of making this a bipartisan effort.
In May, Grassley met with President Obama in the White House and came away satisfied — even floating the idea that health care legislation could get 80 votes in the Senate. Yet this past weekend, Grassley lashed out at Obama’s handling of health care in a series of angry Twitter posts.
When I heard Hatch speak at the Kaiser Family Foundation last month, he said that “meaningful reform” through bipartisan compromise was achievable this year. Yet this week he has become more outspoken in his opposition to the creation of a new government-run plan, and along with other Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee (including Grassley and Enzi), raised alarms over the idea in a letter to President Obama.
And when I expressed skepticism to Enzi last month about the intentions of Democrats after he gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, he told me, “I wish you could be in some of the meetings I’ve been in that are far more encouraging than what you’re reading in the paper…”
But after Democrats on the on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Ted Kennedy, released their own proposal yesterday, Enzi (the ranking Republican on the committee) was blistering in his criticism.
“For health care reform to work and have broad support, it needs to be bipartisan,” Enzi said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the draft bill that Democrats released today is a partisan wish-list that will put us on the road to government-rationed health care.” Today, he followed up by warning that the Democrats’ proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility “would lock 50 million Americans into a second-tier health care program” and drive up the cost of care on everybody else because providers would be forced to jack up rates to recoup the lower reimbursements charged to government programs. To be sure, Enzi said that he still intends to work hard to achieve bipartisan reform, but clearly his statements are less effusive than they were just last month.
UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Craig Orfield, Enzi’s communications director, who told me that Enzi was “very disappointed” with the release of the Kennedy bill, and said the senator feels that all the time Republicans spent talking to Democrats may have been in vain since the majority wasn’t listening to them. Orfield said the HELP Committee did not have as open a process as the Finance Committee. Last month, Enzi was skeptical about the idea of a GOP alternative, but may be warming up — Orfield said that when the Senate Republican “working group” on health care meets this afternoon, they’ll likely be discussing whether to present an alternative.
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