Critical Condition

House GOP: Bipartisan? Fine By Us

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) has a choice. She can shove a bloated health-care bill through the House via reconciliation, which would require a 51-vote majority for approval in the Senate, or she can start over. If she does the latter, House Republicans tell National Review Online that they’re ready and willing to help craft a bipartisan bill.

Republicans are eager to work with Democrats on “incremental reforms,” says Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference. “The Democrats, however, have still not reached out,” he says. “I haven’t heard anything from their leadership this week about a change in their approach.”

“Republicans have been offering substantive proposals all year long to enable Americans to purchase insurance across state lines and to impose some reasonable limits on punitive damages in medical-malpractice cases,” says Pence. “If the administration and the Democrats really want to make progress, then they should abandon the practice of rejecting every Republican proposal.” Those two issues — tort reform and the creation of a national insurance market — would need to be included in any bipartisan effort, he says.

“It’s really remarkable how the GOP is marked by Democrats as the ‘party of no’ around the country when we’re the ones who have been shut out of the process,” says Pence. “They’re the party who has been reflexively saying ‘no’ to everything we offer.” Still, he says, “we’re willing to work and listen with those across the aisle. The door is always open.”

To make his point, Pence notes that President Obama is coming to speak to the House Republican retreat in Baltimore next week. “We’re looking forward to having a healthy exchange of ideas, for him to unpack his own and for us to share our own Republican alternatives,” he says. “It would helpful if the president pledges to give serious consideration to Republican solutions in the legislative process.”

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.) agrees. “Bipartisanship is always a possibility, but it comes down to whether Democrats are truly willing to sit down with Republicans to come to some consensus. I think they’re still trying to salvage a losing bill. They barely got it through the House the first time, and there has been an erosion of public support since then. Now with all of these Democrats retiring, it seems like many of them are more worried about re-election than passing a bill.”

“The consistent lesson of American political history is that to succeed with any major piece of legislation, the support must be bipartisan,” says Bachus. “There are things out there that we’re happy to consider. Everyone realizes that pre-existing conditions are a problem. We could talk about expanding high-risk pools, portability, tort reform, and other cost-saving measures where I know Democrats and Republicans can come together. The thing is, if you start throwing in a public option or abortion, it obviously becomes problematic.”

Rep. Charles Boustany (R., La.) adds that Pelosi will soon have to realize that “bipartisanship is the only way to go.”

“There was a lot of shock after Tuesday’s election, but questions linger about which direction this debate will take. Goodwill and signals are going to have to come from the Democratic leadership and the administration,” says Boustany. “The president will need to follow his words with action and push bipartisanship forward. Republicans have a healthy skepticism about whether he’ll do that, but the bottom line is that the American people want to address the affordability issue and Democrats hopefully are willing to work with us in addressing their concerns. I’ve spoken with rank-and-file Democrats and they tell me that would have preferred a bipartisan and focused approach all along.”

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