GOP still feeling left out on healthcare

Two top Senate Republicans on Wednesday renewed their harshest criticisms of the Democratic-driven healthcare reform process, even as Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to reach out to the GOP.

Senate Republican Conference President Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (N.H.) also predicted to reporters that the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee won’t finish the bill’s markup in time for a final vote before the August recess. Gregg is a former chairman of the HELP Committee.

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Alexander and Gregg said the GOP has submitted several proposals, although they conceded the party has not brought forward a concrete draft as an alternative to the bill being marked up by the HELP Committee. Alexander said the Democratic bill contains too much debt and regulation, and Gregg said it wouldn’t even accomplish President Obama’s stated goal of insuring all Americans.

“The Republican caucus has a whole handful of lollipops, and we keep offering them to the Democrats, saying, ‘Here’s the red one, here’s the blue one, here’s the green one, why don’t you take one and let’s go to work on it,’ " Alexander said. “Most of them are being rejected out of hand.”

Earlier Wednesday, Reid met with GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), who is the ranking HELP Committee member, Olympia Snowe (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) to ask for GOP help to pass the bill. Emerging from the meeting, the Republicans said Reid downplayed any deadline to pass the bill in an effort to allow bipartisan talks more time to bear fruit.

When asked if more time would lead to more bipartisan success, Gregg said he disagreed.

“It appears that more time is making less of a difference on bipartisanship,” he said. “They’ve got 60 votes. They won the election. It appears they’ve decided maybe to go this alone.”

When asked about “poison pills” in the bill, such as a single-payer or public-option component, Gregg said such components are a “non-starter” to Republicans because they would only lead to rationing and price controls.

“On all other things, we’re open,” Gregg said.

Gregg flatly said the stated Democratic goal of a successful bill before the August recess is impossible and that the GOP won’t allow only two to three weeks of debate.

“No, the Senate’s not going to pass a bill before the August recess,” he said. “The HELP Committee will complete its markup before the August recess … But I don’t think Finance can complete its markup, and we certainly aren’t going to take a bill like this across the floor with anything less than two or three weeks.”

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