WASHINGTON — Republican frustration with Democratic plans to remake the health care system boiled over Thursday, as Republicans complained about the size, shape and cost of the emerging proposal. But Democratic leaders said they still intended to push a bill through the Senate this summer.
The chairman of the Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and the senior Republican on the panel, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, expressed confidence that they could come together on a bill producing near-universal coverage. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said senators should expect "a very long, hard work period in July," with roll call votes from Monday through Friday every week.
President Barack Obama's goal for overhauling the health care system is to lower costs and extend care to 50 million uninsured people. He wants a bill on his desk in October.
After weeks of amiable optimism, Republicans who emerged from a two-hour meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday gave sharp-edged comments. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Republicans were being pressed by Democrats to support tax increases to pay for a bill they had not seen, with an unknown price tag. "I'd like to see a bill. All I've seen is slide shows."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he feared that Democrats, with a solid majority in the Senate and strong support from Obama, would ignore Republican concerns about a big expansion in the role of government.
Grassley said many Republicans agreed with Democrats that all Americans should be required to have "insurance of some kind or another." But he said he and other Republican senators did not believe the government should require employers to provide or pay for coverage of their employees.
Republicans propose savings: House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia outlined $375 billion in federal budget savings on Thursday, telling Obama that their proposals will save taxpayers money and help to shrink the deficit. Republicans say Obama's $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal 2010, released last month, is far too big. Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for the White House's Office of Management and Budget, said the proposed savings would actually be about $25 billion over five years because $317 billion of the Republicans' savings comes from undefined caps on discretionary spending, and $45 billion comes from Troubled Asset Relief Program repayments that are already assumed to go back to U.S. coffers.
Sotomayor sends files: The White House contacted Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor about serving on the high court four days before Justice David Souter announced that he would retire, the judge revealed Thursday, as she sent a Senate panel five boxes of files with personal details and writings that will shape the debate on her confirmation. They came in response to a questionnaire the Senate Judiciary Committee sends federal court nominees.
Alaska pipeline Case: Attorney General Eric Holder asked a court Thursday to release imprisoned former Alaska House Speaker Peter Kott and former state Rep. Victor Kohring after the Justice Department found prosecutors improperly failed to turn over evidence to the defense in their trials on corruption charges. The move is the second embarrassing retreat for Justice Department prosecutors since the conviction of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was tossed out of court in April. Holder has asked a federal appeals court to send the cases back to the trial judge.