Published September 10, 2009
Republicans have an offer -- or 35 -- for President Obama if he is serious about wanting to listen to alternative proposals.
"You've got the House working group -- solutions working group on health care; you've got a proposal there. You've got H.R. 3400. Or you could go to healthcare.gop.gov and you can see all of the proposals -- all of them. They're right there," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Thursday.
H.R. 3400 is the Small Business Health Fairness Act. It calls for small businesses to offer employees health insurance through group health plans.
It's one of several options Republicans are hoping to use to gain some traction in the debate.
Some of the GOP proposals focus on improving elements of the existing health care system, such as Medicare or Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), while others are more comprehensive in scope. For example, some plans would allow private insurers to offer affordable basic plans or exempt taxes from insurance bought in the individual market.
But none of the proposals has gotten a hearing, and none has much chance of getting passed since Democrats control Congress and the agenda.
"The thing that's killing me is that those very members on the Republican side have over the course of the last five months offered some 800 amendments and individual pieces of legislation to the -- to the president and to (House Speaker) Nancy (Pelosi) and Harry Reid, to say, 'Hey, this is our contribution.' Every last piece has been rejected," said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
On Wednesday night, Obama told a nationally televised audience watching his speech to a joint session of Congress that he will listen to a "serious set of proposals" on health care.
In fact, during his address, the president praised his campaign rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for a proposal to have the government offer low-cost coverage to Americans with pre-existing medical conditions.
"We should embrace it," he said.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the president is obviously hearing the GOP.
"He included Republican proposals in his plan. He referred to specifically a number of senators, McCain, (Orrin) Hatch. He even took a page out of President Bush's book and indicated some things that he was going to be studying and that he directed his Cabinet to start studying," Reid told reporters, repeating his assertion that lawmakers agree on 80 to 90 percent of the legislation.
Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, a surgeon and the lawmaker who delivered the Republican response to the president's speech, agreed that it wouldn't take much for the president and the GOP to get on the same page.
"If you put tort reform in the bill and you get the government-run plan out of this bill, then now we've got room for some compromise," Boustany told FOX News.
But Boehner said Republicans, while raring to go on several options, want the president to take a step back and consider the alternatives before pushing forward with his proposed 10-year, $900 billion program that includes an option for a government-run insurance program.
"It's really about the president pushing the reset button. There's a way to start this process over, and I think that's really what the American people want. Let's start over. Let's start over in a bipartisan way and let's -- let's work on those things that we can agree on. I mean, we could do medical malpractice reform by itself tomorrow," he said.
"The president didn't go to Capitol Hill just to give lip service to both sides of the aisle. And I don't think that you can judge one day's effort or one afternoon's after the one day after the speech. The president is focused on hearing all of those ideas," he said.
But the president's seemingly conciliatory statement that his "door is always open" drew skepticism from some.
"It's tough to say what door he's talking about, since the president has not met with House Republicans since April, and when Republican leaders asked for such a meeting in a May 14 letter, the president ignored the request," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.
Steele, of the RNC, also mocked Obama's overture to work with Republicans, saying congressional Democratic leaders have yet to accept an offer from Republican leaders to meet.
"So all of this, you know, 'We want to work with you, kumbaya; let's all get along,' in my view is just blue smoke and mirrors," Steele told FOX News. "It's typical Washington stuff to say that, and then to do what we've seen, to have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid run the tables on the kind of health care that they want to put in place, and then look at Republicans and point the finger and go, 'Well, you guys aren't playing fair or nice with us.'"
Since May, when Republicans first introduced a Patients Choice Act, GOP lawmakers have expanded on several of their proposals, a few of which have caught the attention of the president.
The following is a summary of just a few others on the table:
Patients' Choice Act
Introduced: May 20 by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
Summary: This plan offers refundable tax credits of $2,290 to individuals and $5,710 to families to pay for health care. It would create marketplaces to offer insurance choice and make more private insurance options are available to consumers without creating a public insurance system. It would create independent health courts to resolve malpractice disputes outside the current system.
Health Care Choice Act
Introduced: July 14 by Arizona Rep. John Shadegg.
Summary: This plan allows consumers to purchase health insurance in other states.
Empowering Patients First Act
Introduced: July 30 by Georgia Rep. Tom Price.
Summary: This plan would extend tax deductions on health care premiums to the individual market and offer a low-income tax credit of $2,000 to individuals, $4,000 for couples and $5,000 for families. The plan would also allow employer to offer discounts for healthy habits.
Access to Insurance for All Americans Act
Introduced: July 31 by California Rep. Darrell Issa.
Summary: This plan would allow consumers to enroll in the same health care plan for lawmakers and federal employees. It also allows employees to transfer their coverage when they change jobs.
Patient-Controlled Healthcare Protection Act of 2009
Introduced: July 31 by Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert
Summary: This plan provides incentives for consumers to purchase private insurance with a high deductible while paying into an unlimited Health Savings Account.