June 17, 2009 -- The partisanship on health care reform was on full display today as members of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee sparred at a televised hearing over a proposal written by Democrats that includes a public health insurance plan and a requirement for employers to provide health insurance.
On the other side, the Senate Finance Committee was also working hard to try and reach a more bipartisan compromise, but the ranking Republican on that committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said they may not reach a self-imposed deadline of July 4 to present their bill to the public.
Two bills are currently circulating in the Senate, one being the health reform plan sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who remains absent from the negotiations while he undergoes treatment for brain cancer. The Kennedy bill includes a health insurance plan that would be run by the government and compete with private insurance companies.
The other bill, which is still being drafted by Democrat and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, entails replacing the public option plan with a series of health insurance nonprofit organizations that would compete with the private sector.
Grassley said closed-door negotiations for a bipartisan health reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee hit a snag, delaying an important cost estimate of that bill. But he expressed optimism that the committee will be able to reach a bipartisan health care reform bill.
Grassley said President Obama and congressional Democrats need to work with Republicans, who say a public option plan, which Obama supports, would stifle all competition and weaken the private insurance industry.
Republican lawmakers have maligned Democrats for lack of transparency in drafting their bills to recast health care in the United States.
Sen. Mike Enzi, the Wyoming Republican who is his party's ranking member on the health committee, said the stakes of health care reform are too high for Democrats to take over the process.
"This is the most comprehensive legislation that any of us will ever work on," Enzi said Wednesday. "It will fundamentally impact one-sixth of the nation's economy ... affect the health care of every American. ... It's too important not to take the time to get it right."
The plan's 3½ page summary provided to reporters lacked details or a cost estimate, but Republican leaders promised those details would come later.
House GOP leaders said the goals of their plan are to make quality health care affordable and accessible, prevent Americans from being forced into a new government-run health care plan, let Americans who like their coverage keep it, ensure that medical decisions are made by patients and their doctors rather than by the government and improve Americans' lives through effective prevention, wellness and disease management programs.
Republican leaders also emphasized that their plan would cost less than the rival Democratic plan.
Instead of recasting the way health care is provided, mandating that individuals obtain health insurance and employers contribute to it, perhaps with a public insurance option, the House Republican plan seeks reform through the current system.
"If there is a government competitor, you will not be able to keep what you have," said Roy Blunt, R-Mo., head of the Health Care Solutions Group for House Republicans. "For those that say it's just another competitor in the field. ... There's no fact ever that bears that out. Government will not compete fairly. We believe there's a bigger marketplace beyond today's marketplace we can help create fairly."
Blunt said taxing health care benefits that workers receive from their employers is not a part of the Republican plan.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., said Republicans will come up with a bill that is paid for, but until it is committed to legislative language and the Congressional Budget Office reviews it, there is no way to put a price tag on it.
"Today is talking about an American vision for health care reform, one that we believe will get a lot of support," Camp said.
Republicans said medical malpractice reform should also be an important part of any health care legislation that passes through the Congress. On Monday, Obama said in a speech to the American Medical Association that he would not do what they recommend when it comes to medical malpractice reform, and limiting the size of the awards juries give.
Republican Lash Out at Democrats' Health Care Plan
House Minority Leader John Boehner, D-Ohio, said the Republicans' plan calls for tax deductions on insurance premiums both for people who get their plans individually or from their companies, and more help for those who have pre-existing conditions and those who cannot afford private health care.
The GOP plan will "bring down costs, insure most Americans and improve the quality of care that we have in our country," Boehner said on "Good Morning America" today.
"We want to take the current system and improve it to cover all Americans," he added. "We don't want the government to come in and bigfoot this like they've done other things."
Republicans said Kennedy's plan not only entails too much government involvement, it is also costly.
A Congressional Budget Office report released Monday estimated that the Senate Health Committee's plan, offered by Sens. Kennedy and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., would cost $1 trillion over 10 years. And while a net increase of 16 million of uninsured Americans would get health insurance, tens of millions of others would be left behind.
Millions more would lose their employer-provided private health insurance if employers opt to sign up for a public health care option in which a government-run plan would compete with private plans.
"If you look at the leading Democrat proposal in the House and the Senate, they have this giant government bureaucracy that literally is going to be taking over private health insurance in America," Boehner said.
"And if you think the post office is the model of efficiency, can you imagine what they're going to do to America's health care?" he asked, borrowing the analogy given by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., comparing a public option plan to the postal service.
Senate Democrats will scale back provisions in their health care bill to trim costs, but there's disagreement over what measures should be cut.
Health Care Reform
White House officials said they would work closely with Congress to move a health care bill quickly through Congress.
Christina Romer, chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, defended the administration's proposals laid out by President Obama Monday, saying the government would pay for the changes, not taxpayers.
"Of course, you can't ever know the future. What the president has said is, we are absolutely going to pay for this thing, any health reform we do," Romer said on "GMA" today. "And it needs to make the fundamental kind of reforms that will slow the growth of costs in the long run, because that's the thing that's fundamentally going to bring down the budget deficit, eventually."
A Democratic Finance Committee staff member said Tuesday that whatever the Senate Finance Committee ultimately produces "will cost less than a trillion dollars, and it will be fully paid for."
Senate Republicans said they need more time to look over proposals.
"I think what we can say about the health care debate at this point is it's in a rather chaotic state," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. "We don't have bills. We don't have scores, and at the same time the majority is saying we need to act quickly. I think it would be highly irresponsible in the extreme to take up a bill that affects 16 percent of the economy without bill language, without scores, and on a rapid time frame for action."
McCain, who has proposed giving all Americans a $5,000 tax credit to purchase insurance on the open market, suggested the government lift bans preventing people from buying insurance sponsored in other states.
"Start over in a true bipartisan fashion," he said Tuesday.
Also on Wednesday, Democrats Tom Daschle and George Mitchell and Republicans Bob Dole and Howard Baker released a $1.2 trillion proposal for health care reform they claim would cover everyone and be fully paid for by spending cuts and tax hikes. The plan would require that every individual carry health insurance, but it also would impose new fees on large companies that do not provide coverage.
ABC News' Dean Norland contributed to this report.