House GOP prepping alternative health-care reform bill

Ben Pershing
Copyright 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009; 6:11 PM

By Ben Pershing After months of criticizing Democrats' health-care proposals without offering one of their own, House Republicans are preparing to unveil a reform bill this week to compete with the majority's ideas. Having lambasted the bill unveiled by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for being nearly 2,000 pages long with a price tag of $1 trillion, Republicans plan to offer a measure much narrower in scope and more modest in its goals. GOP leaders are unable to say yet how much their bill would cost or how many Americans would gain health insurance under their plan, but House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday that his party's bill had been sent to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring. "We expect it to be ready in the next several days," Boehner said. Though specific details aren't available yet, Boehner provided this four-point outline of the GOP bill during Saturday's weekly Republican address: Number one: let families and businesses buy health insurance across state lines; Number two: allow individuals, small businesses, and trade associations to pool together and acquire health insurance at lower prices, the same way large corporations and labor unions do today; Number three: give states the tools to create their own innovative reforms that lower health care costs; and Number four: end junk lawsuits that contribute to higher health care costs by increasing the number of tests and procedures that physicians sometimes order not because they think it's good medicine, but because they are afraid of being sued. Boehner said Monday that the measure would not include language banning insurance companies from denying coverage to consumers with preexisting conditions, a prominent feature of Democrats' bills in both the House and Senate. And while some Republican health-care proposals have called for giving individuals tax credits to help them buy insurance, that idea won't be included in this week's GOP bill because it would cost too much, explained House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.). Therein lies a key difference between the majority's approach to reform and the minority's ideas. "Their focus is to get as close, presumably, to universal coverage as possible," Pence said of Democrats' plans. "Republicans, listening to the American people back home, believe the real issue here is cost.... The Republican plan is intended to focus on the kind of reforms that are going to drive the cost of insurance and the cost of health care down." Democrats, for their part, mocked the GOP's proposals as too little, too late. "Ten months into this debate on how to make quality health care affordable for all Americans, House Republicans have 'eight or nine ideas' according to their leadership," said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami. "They're not even attempting to cover most Americans -- the cornerstone of how we lower costs for all and have the leverage to reform the insurance industry. House Republicans are now rushing to try to convert those 'ideas' into legislation, but without offering real reforms for Americans like ending the insurance industry practice of discriminating against you if you have pre-existing medical condition or dropping coverage when you get sick." Democrats have pledged to put their final bill online for public consumption for 72 hours before the House votes, and leaders hope to have the manager's amendment -- containing the final legislative tweaks -- ready for viewing by Tuesday, which would allow a final vote as early as Friday. Boehner said he also expected to have the GOP's bill online for 72 hours, though it remains unclear whether the minority's proposal will actually get a shot on the floor. "We're hopeful that Speaker Pelosi will allow us time to debate and vote on our substitute," Boehner said. Pelosi's office did not respond to a request for comment on whether the Republican bill would get a vote. As they prepare to release their own bill, Republicans plan to continue their drumbeat against Democrats' proposal. Several House GOP women will speak out this week in hopes of appealing to women voters. Republicans will make scores of special order speeches on the House floor, and will set up a special "reading room" where members (and the press) can read the Democrats' bill with policy aides present to guide them through it. Republicans also plan to hold a 12-hour online town hall meeting on health care, starting at 1 p.m. Thursday. Some GOP lawmakers have used controversial language in criticizing the Democrats' bill. On the House floor Monday, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said: "I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country." Asked for his reaction to Foxx's comment, Boehner said "members are entitled to their opinions" but wouldn't say whether he agreed with the sentiment. The Minority Leader, who is known for sometimes shrugging his shoulders rather than answering questions from the press that he doesn't want to answer, then turned to Pence and said: "This is where they get the 'Boehner shrug,' Mike."

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