GOP Says More Time Needed On Health Care Plan

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he hopes to see a bill that improves the U.S. health care system passed by the end of the year, but that lawmakers must take the time to craft a plan that won't increase the federal debt or hurt small businesses.

McConnell said Republican leaders want to see curbs on lawsuits against doctors and hospitals, which drive up costs.

He also said he favors a plan that would cap insurance costs by giving incentives to those who do their part to stop preventable diseases caused by smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and inactivity.

"We want to get the policy right," he said at a news conference hours before the president was due to address the nation in a speech expected to focus largely on health care.

Obama has spent much of the past two weeks emphasizing the need to pass a comprehensive plan that will give all Americans access to health care, regardless of employment status or pre-existing conditions. He also wants to implement savings measures that would keep down costs in the future.

In speeches in Washington and elsewhere, he has stressed that there is consensus — among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, health care professionals, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and others — that the current health care system is in need of an overhaul.

But the costs to implement the plan could reach $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, and that has raised concerns among lawmakers.

Republicans and many conservative Democrats have said the bills now in the House and Senate don't do enough to cut the cost of health care and don't lay out a clear plan to pay for covering an additional 46 million people.

Obama has said Republicans are making the issue personal, earlier in the week quoting an unnamed senator as predicting that health care could be the president's "Waterloo."

But that senator — Jim DeMint of South Carolina — said the remark was not driven by personal issues. "It's not personal, but we've got to stop his policies. They're loading trillions of dollars of debt onto the American people," he said in a Wednesday morning interview on NBC's Today show.

McConnell took issue with suggestions that Republicans don't want to overhaul the health care system, saying he doesn't know anyone who opposes change.

"I continue to hear suggestions that members of the Republican Conference in the Senate are not for health care. I can't find a single member who is not for trying to improve America's health care system," he said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said he wants to see a truly bipartisan plan.

"It's time for the president to scrap the plan that they've been working on in the House," Boehner said. "It's time to bring both parties together to have real health care reform that will reduce the cost of the system, will reduce the cost of health insurance for Americans, and provide better access."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there is enough support in Congress to pass a health care bill now, but she said there are still some funding issues that need to be worked out.

Pelosi said she wants to see the Senate plan before deciding if House members will move ahead with a tax on the rich to pay for the overhaul.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday morning, Pelosi vowed the House aims to "do it right" and pass a bill that will lower costs, improve quality of care, expand choices and be fully funded.

"We are going in a forward direction. We're on course," she said. But even as she sought to bolster confidence that the health care overhaul would pass, the chairman of the conservative Blue Dog health care task force said Democrats have not reached consensus on key issues.

"We are making progress. However, we have a long way to go," Rep. Mike Ross, a Democrat from Arkansas, said in a statement. He said conservative Democrats are continuing to work with the Obama administration on a bill they can support.

Lawmakers are concerned about proposals to tax the rich to pay the increased cost of a system that would provide care for millions who are now uninsured. The plan by the House Ways and Means Committee would bring in about $544 billion over 10 years.

Others object to a public option that would have the government in competition with private insurers.

The president is keeping up the pressure to pass the bill. He is scheduled to travel to Ohio on Thursday for a tour of the Cleveland Clinic, then hold a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights to discuss health care.

"Northeastern Ohio is an area that's had a lot of short-term problems with the current recession, but also long-term economic decline, including many people who have lost access to health insurance," said John Green, a political analyst at the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

Karen Schaefer of member station WKSU in Kent, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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