As the Senate Finance Committee began debate Tuesday on its version of health-care reform, Sen. Orrin Hatch blasted it as an expensive Washington takeover of health care and urged Democrats to "press reset" to seek bipartisan compromise.
As a lighthearted protest of some provisions that would benefit mostly northeastern states, Hatch, R-Utah, pushed an amendment that would give insurance relief to any state that begins with "U." Of course, Utah is the only one.
"Republicans want to work toward a responsible solution, but we will not let this moment of crisis justify a solution that we cannot afford and starts us down a path of Washington takeover for our health-care system," Hatch told the committee.
"We are now considering a bill that once again proposes more spending, more government and more taxes as a solution to reforming one-sixth of our economy," he said.
"There is still time to press reset and push for a solution that can bring us all together," Hatch said. "By focusing on areas of compromise rather than strife, we can reach consensus on a financially responsible and targeted bill."
Hatch was once one of the "gang of seven" members of the committee seeking bipartisan compromise. He left the group in July, saying Democratic leadership did not give Democrats enough flexibility to seek true compromise. The panel hopes to finish the bill this week, leading to full Senate debate as early as next week.
The committee had more than 560 amendments proposed for consideration as it began marking up the bill on Tuesday, and Hatch had proposed many himself.
The amendments he sought ranged from exempting middle-class families from any tax increases in the bill to banning any funding from going to groups such as ACORN. One of his amendments would rein in trial-lawyer awards in health-care lawsuits.
The Hatch amendment that perhaps gained the most attention was the one that would give relief to any state whose name starts with "U."
That stemmed from his concerns over a proposal in the bill that would give a break for the 17 states with the least-affordable insurance, which are centered mostly in the Northeast. The bill delays the phase-in of an excise tax on high-cost health-insurance plans there. That tax is a main funding source for the Senate bill.
Hatch has charged that the provision may not be constitutional because he says the Constitution instructs that excises "shall be uniform throughout the United States" and should not give just some states relief.
Hatch complained Tuesday that the bill "contains almost $350 billion in new taxes on American families and businesses. This at a time when we are facing some of the toughest economic conditions our nation has ever seen."
He said, "If anyone believes that Washington … can run a national health-care plan that will cost close to $1 trillion, cover all Americans, not raise taxes on anyone, not increase the deficit and not reduce benefits or choices for our families and seniors, then I have a bridge to sell you."
e-mail: [email protected]