Repub­li­cans trail Democrats on health care pro­pos­als

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

Health care is a “must” is­sue among Democrats run­ning for pres­i­dent — pop­ping up at town halls and de­bates and earn­ing the ma­jor can­di­dates’ at­ten­dance at a March fo­rum in Ne­vada ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to the topic.

Among Repub­li­cans, it has been al­most in­vis­i­ble.

The party’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial front-run­ner, for­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani, took the first step to change that on July 31, of­fer­ing broad prin­ci­ples for how he will draw up his own health care pro­posal in the com­ing months and blam­ing gov­ern­ment man­dates and bu­reau­cracy for bal­loon­ing costs.

“We must em­power all Amer­i­cans by in­creas­ing health care choices and af­ford­abil­ity, while bring­ing ac­count­abil­ity to the sys­tem,” he said, ac­cus­ing Democrats of mov­ing to­ward so­cial­ized medicine by fa­vor­ing a big­ger gov­ern­ment role and pay­ing for cov­er­age for those with lower in­comes.

Mr. Gi­u­liani pro­posed a $15,000 tax de­duc­tion for a fam­ily to buy health in­sur­ance, which he said would give in­di­vid­u­als more con­trol over their care, help plans be­come bet­ter-tai­lored and hold down costs.

But his en­try into the dis­cus­sion still leaves Repub­li­cans far be­hind Democrats on an is­sue that polls show is on the minds of vot­ers of both par­ties and that an­a­lysts say each can­di­date will have to ad­dress be­fore reach­ing the White House.

“Ev­ery­body is go­ing to have to spend a lot of time talk­ing about health care,” said Dr. Mark McClel­lan, di­rec­tor of the new En­gel­berg Cen­ter for Health Care Re­form at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

He is call­ing on can­di­dates to re­fine a health care mes­sage for the elec­tions and said Repub­li­cans will need to put more em­pha­sis on it than in the past. Mean­while, “the Democrats have al­ready started do­ing that in their cam­paign — it’s clearly a big is­sue for their base,” Dr. McClel­lan said.

It’s so big that “health care” has drawn 99 men­tions through the first four Demo­cratic de­bates, or more than three times the 30 men­tions in the first three Repub­li­can de­bates.

That lack of at­ten­tion didn’t go with­out no­tice.

“You know, I’ve been here for two de­bates. We never had one ques­tion on health care,” for­mer Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tommy G. Thompson said when a health care ques­tion fi­nally popped up at the third de­bate in June.

The U.S. Cen­sus Bureau says 44.8 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try lacked health in­sur­ance in 2005, up 1.3 mil­lion from 2004. That trend, plus es­ca­lat­ing costs for those who do have in­sur­ance, has driven the is­sue onto both par­ties’ agen­das.

Democrats said Mr. Gi­u­liani’s plan was a re­hash of Pres­i­dent Bush’s own health care plan, an­nounced ear­lier this year, which has not gained any trac­tion in the Demo­crat-con­trolled Congress. The Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee (DNC) also said Mr. Gi­u­liani’s plan would do noth­ing to guar­an­tee cov­er­age for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

“The Gi­u­liani-Bush health care plan has al­ready been re­jected by the Amer­i­can peo­ple as a risky scheme,” said Karen Fin­ney, the DNC’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

Among Democrats, tak­ing the lead on health care has be­come a point of pride, and the can­di­dates spend time dis­sect­ing each other’s plans on the cam­paign trail.

For­mer Sen. John Ed­wards of North Carolina earned ap­plause and cred­i­bil­ity for hav­ing been the first to an­nounce a broad, de­tailed plan re­quir­ing in­di­vid­u­als to have cov­er­age and mak­ing busi­nesses ei­ther pro­vide health in­sur­ance or pay into a fund for shared cov­er­age plans.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illi­nois fol­lowed in May with his own de­tailed plan that makes em­ploy­ers who do not of­fer health in­sur­ance pay into a na­tional plan that would cover in­di­vid­u­als.

Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton of New York has re­leased a part of her plan, which calls for con­trol­ling the costs of health care, and touts her ex­pe­ri­ence as the au­thor of the ill-fated Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion plan as ev­i­dence she’s ready to lead on the topic.

Film­maker Michael Moore, whose new movie, “Sicko,” looks at health care, wants Democrats to go even fur­ther and pledge to refuse their own gov­ern­mentspon­sored health care un­til they en­act uni­ver­sal cov­er­age.

On the Repub­li­can side, Mitt Rom­ney, who is com­pet­ing with Mr. Gi­u­liani in the top tier of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, signed one of the na­tion’s only laws as gov­er­nor of Mas­sachusetts that re­quires ev­ery­one to have cov­er­age.

In the June de­bate, Mr. Rom­ney said Repub­li­cans have to take the is­sue head on.

“We have to stand up and not just talk about it. I’m the guy who ac­tu­ally tack­led this is­sue,” he said. “We get all of our cit­i­zens in­sured. We get peo­ple that were unin­sured with private health in­sur­ance.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Repub­li­can Ru­dolph Gi­u­liani of­fered some clues to­ward a fu­ture health care plan last week.

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