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Dodd Faces a GOP Barrage on Health Care Bill

Senate Republicans are spoiling for a fight this week as the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday kicks off what’s likely to be a lengthy and contentious markup of sweeping health overhaul legislation.

The White House and Congressional Democrats are working to enact legislation by the end of the year that would provide health coverage to the nearly 50 million Americans who lack it. The HELP Committee is the first Senate panel to mark up legislation, but not the last, with the Finance Committee working on a plan that could emerge this week, too.

Republicans could offer more than 100 amendments on some of the bill’s most contentious proposals, including a public health insurance option, mandates that businesses provide their workers health insurance coverage and rules allowing for the federal approval of generic biologic drugs, GOP aides said.

While details of the amendments are unclear, Republicans oppose including a public option, arguing that it would undercut the private market. They also contend that requiring employers to offer health insurance could lead many businesses to drop coverage altogether. And on biologics, the parties are at odds over how long a brand-name drug manufacturer can retain exclusive rights.

Republicans said they have had little time to study legislative language they first received last week and suggested they might offer some amendments simply to give them more time to review the bill.

Some GOP Senators are pushing to delay the markup — and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who will oversee the session in place of ailing HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), has indicated he would consider that if there’s progress in talks between both sides.

“If we’re just going to dance around each other, then we’re going directly to the markup,— Dodd said.

Republicans also say there is insufficient information about the cost of the bill. The Congressional Budget Office is expected to provide cost estimates early this week, but Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a HELP Committee member, argued that Republicans “have reservations about moving forward on a markup— without final numbers.

Republicans have estimated that the bill could cost upward of $2 trillion over the next decade.

Dodd responded that scoring has not yet been completed. “You can’t get scoring unless you have the product,— he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), also a HELP Committee member, said the committee process has relegated the GOP to the sidelines and does not reflect how Kennedy normally would work to seek Republican input. “I don’t even want to call it the Kennedy bill— because the Massachusetts Senator wouldn’t support this process, Hatch claimed.

Dodd rejected the accusation that he’s led a closed process. “I will not rise to the bait of all of this criticism,— he said. “That’s not legitimate criticism.—

Dodd said that there have been extensive discussions between Members and staff and that Republicans were provided with more than 600 pages of draft legislative language. He said there has been bipartisan work on the bill’s provisions focused on preventive care, improving the quality of health care and expanding the health work force.

Kennedy’s office referred all requests for comment to Dodd.

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