GOP senator: Obama's public healthcare plan is dead

Estimates that a government-run plan could cost $1.6 trillion mean it won't pass Congress, said Sen. Lindsey Graham Sunday.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut (r.) presides over a markup meeting for the healthcare bill of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday that this week brought to an end President Obama’s deepest wishes for healthcare reform.

New cost estimates released this week, which suggest that one proposed government-run healthcare option would cost $1.6 trillion and fail to cover two-thirds of the nation’s uninsured, was a “death blow,” he said on ABC News“This Week.”

The statement is a typical inside-the-Beltway flourish of partisan rhetoric. But it hints at the Republicans’ increasingly hardening line and the enormity of Mr. Obama’s task.

Though Democrats hold a strong majority in both houses of Congress, major legislation typically needs at least some bipartisan support to secure passage. It was always going to be hard to persuade Republicans to create a government-run healthcare program to compete with private companies and, in theory, drive healthcare costs down – an idea contrary to the GOP's small-government-is-better mantra.

Last week made it even harder.

Two different sets of numbers will give the Republicans renewed resolve.

First, the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that a Senate Health Committee plan would cost $1.6 trillion gave Republicans a fresh opportunity to assail healthcare reform as a financial disaster in the making.

Second, a poll released last week suggested that Obama’s honeymoon with the American public is ending. His approval rating fell to 56 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday. Significantly, 60 percent of respondents said the president had not developed a clear plan to deal with deficits.

Healthcare legislation on Capitol Hill is still in its formative stages. Senate democrats argued that the Health Committee plan is incomplete, and that cost savings would be factored in later. Moreover, two other proposals are in the works: House Democrats introduced their own bill last week – though without cost figures – and the Senate Finance Committee is expected to release its plan later this summer.

But the urgency Obama is placing upon reform suggests that, sooner rather than later, he might have to give some greater guidance as to what he wants – or might be willing to accept.

In Green Bay, Wis., two weeks ago, Obama said he would not take a “my way or the highway” approach to reform. On Sunday, Senator Graham hinted at the option likely to be more palatable to Republicans: a co-op system that allows individuals and small businesses to join together in order to bargain for better healthcare prices.

Proponents of the Obama plan say co-ops would not provide enough competition – and therefore would not sufficiently drive down costs.

But Republicans and moderate Democrats like Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota are inclined to see them as a compromise. Senator Conrad said on CNN last week that he did not think Obama could pass healthcare reform with a government-run option.

Speaking about opposition to a government-run option, Graham said Sunday: “You've got Senator Conrad talking about a co-op…. So yes, I think this idea needs to go away and replace it with something maybe like Kent Conrad's proposal."

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