KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Enzi and Thune Among Major Republican Voices In Health Reform

Newspapers highlight some of the major Republican players in health reform, including Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Enzi, part of the "gang of six" bipartisan Senators from the Finance Committee working to craft health care legislation, "may represent the nation's least populous state, but this is one senator who's enjoying outsized influence on health care negotiations," NPR reports. " Unlike the moderates and the mavericks in the group, Enzi's a free market conservative who represents one of the most reliably Republican states in the union, so even having him at the table with Democrats raised questions in some quarters." Enzi is also a member of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee and voted against the Health bill. Enzi says he works "on an 80 percent rule. I anticipate and from experience have found that usually everybody can agree on 80 percent of the issues. And among the 80 of the issues they agree on, they can agree on 80 percent of any one of those issues. And you never get a perfect bill around here. If you can get 80 percent, you can get a lot done." But so far, "Enzi has only hardened his stance on issues, like fighting Medicare savings to pay for universal coverage, even though every proposal put forward so far relies on that funding mechanism" (Cornish, 8/25).

The Hill adds that Enzi "has taken an increasingly hard line with Democrats in recent weeks, prompting liberals to question whether he is committed to reaching a deal." Last week, the senator "indicated a healthcare bill needs 75 to 80 votes to win his support and said one that includes a public insurance option - a priority for liberals - would never pass the Senate." Despite his harsh criticisms, Enzi has a history of bipartisan compromise: "When Kennedy took control of the committee after Democrats reclaimed the majority, the two lawmakers worked together on 14 bills that became law, including reauthorization of the Higher Education Act" (Bolton, 8/25).

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune "warned Tuesday that GOP distrust of Democratic leaders runs so deep that even if Democrats abandon plans for a comprehensive health care reform bill in favor of smaller fixes, there is no guarantee of Republican support," Roll Call reports. "In a conference call with reporters, Thune argued that an incremental approach to health care reform is 'the only way to end up with a bipartisan bill.' But he warned the greatest hurdle to such a solution could end up being Republicans' unwillingness to trust Democratic leaders to not use the conference process to rewrite a rifle-shot bill into a fully comprehensive bill" (Stanton, 8/25).

The Hill in a second story: "Thune distinguished Medicare Advantage from Medicare, saying that the GOP wouldn't support cuts to the original program but has 'been open to looking [into] whether there are some savings that could be achieved' by way of cuts to the enhanced program, mostly because it is too expensive to spread into rural areas" (Rushing, 8/25).

The Los Angeles Times highlighted several important Democratic lawmakers in the health reform debates and whether or not they support a public option. "Important to watch are Reps. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) and Keith Ellison (D- Minn.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which backs a strong public option. Pelosi's principal deputy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also backs a public option, but his enthusiasm seems tempered by the political realities in his chamber and in the Senate." In the Senate, "there are those who are wavering, including Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats, is among those who are prepared to vote against a strong public option, giving the GOP some leverage if Senate leaders want to avoid a filibuster fight" (Muskal, 8/26).

The Washington Times reports that "Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Tuesday that President Obama will get a strong health care reform bill, but he predicted Republicans would not support the measure regardless of its provisions." In an interview with the Times, Dean said "were going to pass a bill, and the bill is going to have a public option" (Bellantoni, 8/25).

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