Republicans Hope Health Care Action Can Help Gain Congressional Seats

Armen Hareyan's picture

SeniorSenate Republicans "finessing their election-year message" arecalling on the Senate Republican Conference to stress health care issues tohelp win over independent voters in their attempt to regain a majority in 2008,The Hill reports. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), a closeadviser to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said health care "hasreplaced Iraqas the No. 1 item of anxiety and concern."

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the incoming conference leader, said,"From a Republican point of view, we want to put together four words thatdon't usually go together -- universal access and private sector."

The issue of health care -- on which voters trust Democrats more thanRepublicans, according to polls -- is "particularly sensitive" forthe GOP following President Bush's vetoes of two bills to renew and expandSCHIP, The Hill reports. "I think Democrats will use that asan issue," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, adding, "I think mostRepublicans want SCHIP, but they wanted it to work right."



Bennett and Sen. Ron Wyden(D-Ore.) are trying to build support for the Healthy Americans Act (S 334),which would require individuals to enroll in private health plans. Under thebill, the government would subsidize premiums for lower-income families, andinsurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage or raising premiumsbecause of pre-existing conditions. Bennett said, "Republicans don't usethe language of universal health care because it's code for a single-payergovernment-run system." He continued, "Now, I'm perfectly willing toembrace universal coverage as long as it's understood that it's not asingle-payer government-run system, because I do endorse the goal of everyAmerican (being) insured."

"Wyden says [the bill] appears to be more politically palatable next yearthan SCHIP for Republicans," The Hill reports. He said,"It gives Republicans the private-sector role for health care they arelooking for, at the same time allowing Democrats to say everybody is going tobe covered."

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) last week proposed an expansion of access to low-costhealth care without a government mandate (Raju, The Hill, 12/20).

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