WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Obama’s ambitious goal of having health care reform legislation on his desk by August is facing some serious obstacles - if Sunday’s discussion by a bipartisan group of senators is any indication of what the wider debate in the Senate will be like.
Just minutes after Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary said the administration was open to a recent proposal from Rep. Charles Rangel to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to fund part of the costs of health care reform, fellow Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad said the proposal was basically a non-starter.
“Everything does have to be on the table,” Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, “you can’t negotiate properly without that rule in place. But, I don’t think the House proposal as I’ve heard it will be what’s part of the final package.”
That said, Conrad added that the final bill may include some request for wealthier Americans “to pay a bit more.”
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander called Rangel’s proposal “a bad idea.”
Instead, Alexander said health care reform proposals should focus on not adding to the national debt while making it possible for every American to purchase their own health care insurance. Alexander suggested that one way to accomplish these twin goals is to consider eliminating tax deductions granted on so-called “Cadillac” employer-provider health insurance plans.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan disagreed with Lamar Alexander’s approach. “Realistically, the one thing that is off the table is taxing employee benefits,” the Democrat told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire suggested that the current terms of the entire health care reform debate might be wrong-headed.
“Why don’t we approach this horse from the other end?,” Gregg said, “I think we’re approaching it from the wrong end when you start increasing spending like that and increasing the debt of this country - which is already excessive.”
Instead, Gregg suggested that a better approach would focus on controlling the rate of spending through delivery of better quality health care at lower costs.
The senators also disagreed on whether a public insurance option ought to be a part of health care reform.
“A public option is a slippery slope to a single-payer system like in Canada or England,” Gregg said.
Sen. Conrad continues to back his proposal for health insurance co-ops while Alexander said that he does not support a public option but might support co-ops.
Stabenow called the public option her “first choice and very strong choice” for health care reform. The Michigan Democrat said that Sens. Gregg and Alexander’s comments reflected “scare tactics put forward by folks that don’t really want to change the system.”
Last week, President Obama said he would like to have health care reform legislation on his desk, ready for his signature by the time Congress takes its annual August recess.