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Republican Enzi Seems Unlikely to Negotiate on Health-Care Deal

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By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Republican member of the Senate's "Gang of Six" health-care negotiators sharply criticized Democrats' reform plans Saturday, making the climb to a bipartisan deal when Congress returns next week appear even steeper.

In the GOP's weekly radio and Internet address, Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) said the Democrats' health-care proposals "will actually make our nation's finances sicker without saving you money," and would also "raid Medicare" and intrude "in the relationship between a doctor and a patient." His remarks are the latest volley in a partisan debate that has grown increasingly heated during the August recess, as some lawmakers have reported hearing fervent opposition to President Obama's reform plans in their states and districts.

"Across the country, people are concerned about the reform bills Democrats have proposed," Enzi said. "I heard a lot of frustration and anger as I traveled across my home state this last few weeks."

Instead of what Democrats suggest, Enzi said Saturday that the Senate should "enact common-sense reform that will actually cut costs," including provisions to help small businesses insure their workers while reforming the tax code and medical malpractice system.

Enzi is one of six members of the Senate Finance Committee who have been ensconced for weeks in intensive talks over health-care reform. He and his two fellow Republican negotiators, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), represent the best chance for a bipartisan compromise, as the measures that have passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and two House panels have done so with only Democratic support.

But unlike Snowe and Grassley, Enzi -- the top Republican on the Senate Health panel -- has a solidly conservative voting record and a relatively scant history of cutting deals with Democrats. Though Enzi has been deeply involved in the Finance panel negotiations at the invitation of panel Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Wyoming senator said Saturday, "I hope the president and the Democratic-controlled Congress will reject the go-it-alone path that they are currently on. If they do, we'll have a chance to truly work on a real bill that will address those critical issues."

Democrats on Capitol Hill and at the White House have floated the possibility of pushing health-care reform through on a party-line basis, perhaps via a legislative process known as reconciliation. But party leaders haven't given up hope yet of a bipartisan compromise, and the Gang of Six is expected to speak via teleconference on Friday before the full Senate returns Sept. 8.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said during a tele-town hall Friday that health-care reform should be bipartisan, but suggested Republicans might be trying to kill reform altogether.

"If we can't do a bipartisan bill, we can do a partisan bill," he said. "I don't want to do that."

At the start of Enzi's address, he paid tribute to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) who was Enzi's counterpart atop the Senate Health committee. Kennedy "has been a tireless champion on a wide range of important issues and his voice will be missed in the Senate," Enzi said.


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