White House Pushes Former GOP Officials’ Support for Health Care Reform

By MichaelJames

Oct 10, 2009 12:40pm

The White House continued to roll out endorsements from former Republican officials for health care reform Saturday, releasing statements from former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and surgeon generals from the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W Bush, with the Democratic National Committee introducing a new TV ad to run nationally making the same basic argument.

The goal is to paint current Republican officials as hyper-partisan obstructionists by contrasting them with former GOP officials and other Republicans from outside Washington, D.C. who have broadly endorsed health care reform efforts.

Complicating the argument is the fact that some of the GOPers in question have expressed serious differences with key particulars of the health care reform proposals Democrats in Congress have unveiled.

"Its not surprising that they would" have differences with bill specifics, White House deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer told ABC News. "There are a number of substantive issues still being worked out. But they believe we are headed in the right direction and urging their party to work constructively to seize the moment and address this big challenge."

President Obama, in his weekly address Saturday, cited expressions of hope for a bipartisan solution from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Republican (now Independent) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Republican Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Dr. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., President George H.W. Bush's Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Louis Sullivan, President George W. Bush's Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

"These distinguished leaders understand that health insurance reform isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but an American issue that demands a solution," President Obama said. "Still, there are some in Washington today who seem determined to play the same old partisan politics, working to score political points, even if it means burdening this country with an unsustainable status quo."

Today, Dr. Antonia Novello, the surgeon general from 1990-1993, and Dr. Richard Carmona, the surgeon general from 2002-2006, joined two surgeon generals from the administration of President Bill Clinton, Dr. David Satcher and Dr. Joycelyn Elders, to issued a statement saying that "we have seen first-hand that the current health care system is unsustainable. Meaningful reform is vital to improving the health of our nation.  We need to have reform that prioritizes prevention, preventive care and health literacy to encourage healthier lifestyles and we must also lower costs in order to make quality health care affordable for every single person who needs it. The approaches that Congress is considering, will help achieve these goals and we urge members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to work together to achieve real reform to improve the health of our nation.”

In a statement released Saturday morning, Hagel said, “Right now in this country, we have the best opportunity we’ve had in recent history to begin to create real health care reform that will expand coverage for those who don’t have it and lower costs for those who do. … The Congress and the administration are working on bipartisan, practical solutions to improve our health care system.  I urge all members of Congress to put aside their narrow partisan differences and seize this moment for health care reform.  We will fail our country if we do not succeed."

The Democratic National Committee today unveiled a TV ad to begin running nationally Monday sharing broad sentiments of support for health care reform efforts from Dole, Frist, Schwarzenegger and Thompson.

Dole recently said that "the American people have waited decades and if this moment passes us by, it may be decades more before there is another opportunity. The current approaches suggested by the Congress are far from perfect, but they do provide some basis on which Congress can move forward and we urge the joint leadership to get together for America’s sake." Dole added that "constantly saying no" is not the appropriate position for GOP leaders.

But as Republican aides in the Senate point out, the devil — as always — is in the details.

On Fox News Channel's "Your World With Neil Cavuto" on Oct. 9, Dole said Republicans are "not going to buy on to all the excise taxes that Sen. Baucus put on the bill. It’s going to drive insurance companies out of business. We believe in the private sector."

Frist told Time's Karen Tumulty that "I would end up voting for it. As leader, I would take heat for it. … That's what leadership is all about."

But on Oct. 6 he seemed to backtrack, telling CNBC's "Squawk Box" that “We’ve got five bills on the Senate. … Right now, in the shape that each of those are in, I wouldn’t vote for any of them.”

Thompson said in a statement with former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., "Failure to reach an agreement on health reform this year is not an acceptable option.”

They added: "Clearly, there are some issues that remain troublesome and unresolved in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, but there are opportunities to debate these issues further as Congress moves in both Houses toward enactment of health reform this session. Differences in approach among committees in the Senate and House should not obscure the fact that there is also substantial common ground and compatible provisions between the Senate Finance Committee bill, the Senate HELP reform bill and H.R. 3200 in the House of Representatives."

And Schwarzenegger has said, "The House originally proposed fully funding the expansion with federal dollars, but due to cost concerns, members decided to shift a portion of these expansion costs to states. I will be clear on this particular proposal: If Congress thinks the Medicaid expansion is too expensive for the federal government, it is absolutely unaffordable for states. Proposals in the Senate envision passing on more than $8 billion in new costs to California annually – crowding out other priority or constitutionally required state spending and presenting a false choice for all of us. I cannot and will not support federal health care reform proposals that impose billions of dollars in new costs on California each year.”

- jpt

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