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GOP Senators Set Tone for Upcoming Health Care Debate

Senate Republicans on Monday wasted no time trying to set the tone for the upcoming health care reform debate in their chamber, saying GOP Senators will focus on substance over style when it comes to opposing the Democratic legislation.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the Senate debate will be far different than the one that dominated the House. They said Republican Senators plan to focus on issues such as the bill’s price tag and its impact on small businesses and insurance portability.

“While issues like abortion may be important to lawmakers, the issues that are going to dominate the health care debate are whether we’re reducing cost or increasing cost,— Alexander said.

Indeed, a GOP aide acknowledged that Alexander’s decision to tap Collins — one of the GOP Conference’s more moderate members — to fire the party’s first shot was intended to show that Republican leaders will, at least for now, focus on policy rather than politics. The aide also said Senate Republicans will emphasize the types of health care reform proposals they support, rather than the ones they oppose.

“It’ll be as much about what we’re against as what we’re for,— the aide said.

True to form, Collins raised a series of concerns with specific provisions in Democratic bills, including the cost of excise taxes on medical devices and prescription drugs, limits on the use of flexible spending accounts, and the overall impact health care legislation will have on small businesses.

While the goal of reform should be to reduce the cost of health care for Americans, Democratic proposals are “the opposite of what we want to do,— Collins said.

Collins did, however, note that there are a number of areas where Republicans and Democrats agree, including on increasing the portability of insurance plans across state lines and giving businesses the ability to pool their health care money to get better plans for their employees.

Collins said she remains hopeful a bipartisan Senate deal can be worked out and said she is working with a group of moderates from both parties to put together a bipartisan alternative to the Senate Democrats’ legislation.

“I still believe we can put together a bipartisan bill,— Collins said, adding that, “There are so many areas where there is bipartisan agreement on what should be done.—

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