White House fires back at Sen. Enzi

 

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Enzi “clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship” after Wyoming Republican blasted Democratic healthcare proposals in the weekly Republican address.

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“It appears that at least in Senator Enzi's case, he doesn't believe there's a pathway to get bipartisan support, and the president thinks that’s wrong,” said Gibbs, who added that Enzi had “decided to walk away from the table.”

Gibbs said Obama is still “firmly committed” to working with members of either party if they want “to see progress on healthcare reform.”

He called Enzi's comments “tremendously unfortunate” but illuminating in that it suggests Enzi isn’t serious about reaching a compromise.

Gibbs said he thinks it is “tremendously unfortunately that it looks like Republicans are stepping away from seeking a bipartisan solution.”

“I think it's bad for this town, but it's much worse for this country,” Gibbs said.

In Saturday’s GOP address, Enzi said Democratic healthcare legislation would drive up the deficit, discriminate against the elderly and do little to control costs. He also said Democrats would “raid Medicare,” which would result in hundreds of billions of cuts in programs for the elderly to create new government programs.

“The Democrats are trying to rush a bill through the process that will actually make our nation’s finances sicker without saving you money,” Enzi said.

Enzi’s remarks were notable because he is one of three Republicans and three Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee who have been trying to reach a bipartisan deal.

The group hasn’t met since the August recess began, though they did hold one teleconference during the break. Republicans have hammered at efforts by Obama and Democrats on healthcare reform all month, and momentum has appeared to turn against reform during the recess.

Liberal Democrats also have expressed frustration at the talks on the Finance Committee, where they worry Senate Democrats will offer concessions from Republicans who have no desire to see a final bill.

In recent weeks, much of the debate over compromise has centered on the public option, which is prized by liberals. In the House, liberal Democrats have warned they’ll oppose a healthcare bill without a public option, but conservative Democrats fret they’ll be charged with voting for government-run healthcare if they vote for a reform bill that includes a public option.

The centrists’ concerns were reflected earlier this month when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested a public option might need to be dropped to pass a bill.

“I'm for a public option, but I'm also for passing a bill,” Hoyer said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, has said a House healthcare bill must include a public option.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), another Finance Committee negotiator, has said there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass a bill with a public option.

Enzi has an expertise on healthcare as the ranking member of the Senate Health Committee, but has been seen as more conservative than the other two Republicans in the Finance talks, Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa).

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The back and forth about Enzi came in response to a question about a fundraising letter that Grassley is reportedly circulating that says the president wants to nationalize healthcare.

Gibbs said he had not seen that letter, but he pivoted quickly to Enzi’s comments on Saturday.

“I think what somebody has to ask Sen. Enzi and ask others, every member of Congress, is are you satisfied with the way the system is working right now?” said Gibbs, who then mentioned rising premium costs and “skyrocketing” out-of-pocket costs.

“Are you satisfied that small businesses are dropping their coverage?  Are you satisfied that every day 14,000 Americans wake up and find themselves without health insurance coverage?,” he said. “I think many may believe that we can't afford to do anything.  I think this president believes we can't afford not to.”

Obama returned to Washington from Martha’s Vineyard on Sunday but remains on vacation for the week. Gibbs said the president did have some discussions on healthcare at the White House Monday before hitting the golf course for an afternoon round.