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Hard-Working Staffer Is Steady as She Goes

What sets Elizabeth Wroe apart from many other Senate aides is the way she approaches negotiations, a senior Democratic Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions staffer said.

Wroe, who serves as health counsel to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), always makes clear up front what her boss needs to support a bill, the senior aide said. And she is consistent, never wavering on the Senator’s terms throughout negotiations. The same cannot be said for many other staffers, who can change their demands day by day, “which makes it difficult to work out deals with them,— the aide added.

“I’m a big fan [of Wroe], and I don’t say that lightly,— the Democratic aide said. A senior Republican HELP aide called Wroe a “team player— who has been effective in communicating with outside groups and representing her boss’s interests. Before health reform, Wroe had also played a central role in passing reforms to the Food and Drug Administration, including reauthorizing and increasing industry user fees used to fund agency safety inspections and reviews.

Wroe started to work for Gregg as a law clerk while attending the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law in 2004 and took a job with Gregg in the Senate Budget Committee after graduating. That clerkship “opened my eyes to what you could do as a lawyer on the Hill,— she said. Now she runs a three-person health team out of Gregg’s Budget office, taking the lead on health coverage issues and food and drug policy, including food safety.

Wroe now finds herself in the center of crucial committee negotiations on a far-reaching bill to overhaul the nation’s health care system in order to provide insurance for the approximately 46 million Americans who lack health care.

Wroe says her plan for these negotiations is to be “as aggressive as possible— in trying to further Gregg’s goals of expanding coverage while lowering costs. Gregg, who is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, has taken an active role in trying to ensure that health care reform does not add to the federal deficit.

For Wroe, the key to these negotiations is to take a long-term view. “It’s a marathon, where every mile feels like a sprint,— she said.

Her colleagues say she’s up to the task. “Liz works like a machine,— putting in seven days a week for the past few months to get a deal on health care, another GOP aide said.

While Wroe believes there are a lot of unanswered questions in the reform bill that HELP is working on, she is optimistic that a bipartisan deal can be found. “I hope to find more common ground by the end of the markup,— she said. Gregg’s staff is “just going to keep looking for it in every way possible.—

This week, HELP will address the coverage provisions of the bill in what is expected to be the most contentious stage of negotiations. Democrats and Republicans are far apart on issues ranging from whether to have a government-backed insurance plan to whether to have mandates requiring employer health care coverage.

While Wroe has worked closely with Democrats, she complains that Republicans have been left out of recent talks, a point Democrats reject. She says that while staff from both parties worked closely together on legislation from last February until a month ago, that ended when Democrats told Republican staff that they had finished the bill and were ready to go to markup.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is running the markup for ailing HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), has argued that Republicans have had enough input, with access to the language along with sufficient time to review it before amendments were due. He has also said that Republicans have been given free rein to offer as many amendments as they like and that Democrats have accepted many of them.

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