GOP To Push Health Issues in Congressional Election
Senior Senate Republicans "finessing their election-year message" are calling on the Senate Republican Conference to stress health care issues to help win over independent voters in their attempt to regain a majority in 2008, The Hill reports.
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), a close adviser to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said health care "has replaced Iraq as 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 that don't usually go together -- universal access and private sector."
The issue of health care -- on which voters trust Democrats more than Republicans, according to polls -- is "particularly sensitive" for the GOP following President Bush's vetoes of two bills to renew and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, The Hill reports. "I think Democrats will use that as an issue," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, adding, "I think most Republicans 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 the bill, the government would subsidize premiums for lower-income families, and insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage or raising premiums because of pre-existing conditions.
Bennett said, "Republicans don't use the language of universal health care because it's code for a single-payer government-run system." He continued, "Now, I'm perfectly willing to embrace universal coverage as long as it's understood that it's not a single-payer government-run system, because I do endorse the goal of every American (being) insured."
"Wyden says [the bill] appears to be more politically palatable next year than SCHIP for Republicans," The Hill reports. He said, "It gives Republicans the private-sector role for health care they are looking for, at the same time allowing Democrats to say everybody is going to be covered."
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) last week proposed an expansion of access to low-cost health care without a government mandate (Raju, The Hill, 12/20).