By Alexander Bolton - 09/03/09 05:01 PM EDT
Sen. Mike EnziMike EnziJudd Gregg: The silver lining Judd Gregg: A little change Lobbying World MORE (Wyo.), one of three Republicans leading Senate healthcare negotiations, has fired back at the White House for trying to undercut him.
Enzi refuted White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’s claim that the senator “doesn’t believe there’s a pathway to get bipartisan support” and has “decided that it's time to walk away from the table.”
“I haven’t walked away from our shared goal of healthcare reform or compromised the original principles I outlined as essential to any plan for reform,” Enzi said in a Thursday statement.
“I have consistently said that I would oppose a government-run option,” he said in reference to a proposal to create a broad government health insurance program. “I believe we need to increase, not decrease, private competition and transparency, and if Congress is serious about reducing the cost of healthcare we need to look at some type of malpractice reform.”
Enzi said he would continue to talk with Baucus and other members of the Finance panel, despite the none-too-subtle effort by the White House to push Enzi out of the discussions.
“I am still working with Sen. Baucus and other members of the so-called Gang of Six,” Enzi said. “These discussions led by Sen. Baucus have been productive, and I plan to continue with them.”
Enzi contrasted what he called the “bipartisan” work of the Finance Committee with the healthcare bill the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed on a straight party-line vote in July. Enzi is the senior Republican on HELP.
“The truly bipartisan approach is the best way to solve the real healthcare problems facing our nation because both parties are at the table and working on solutions without being rushed by arbitrary deadlines,” he said.
Liberal activists who have sway among Democratic senators, however, say that Enzi’s plea to continue bipartisan talks is a hollow ploy.
“The Republicans have a lot of chutzpah; they would be happy to keep this process on an unproductive level of talking, talking, talking forever,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future.
Hickey said that Enzi and another GOP negotiator, Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyPollster: Clinton leads in 5 battlegrounds Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Dozens of senators push EPA for higher ethanol mandate MORE (Iowa), have issued statements over the August recess making it clear that “they’re not going to be cooperative with any kind of healthcare bill that a majority of Democrats want to support.”
Enzi angered the White House and allied liberals when he delivered a weekend radio address that accused Democrats of crafting healthcare plans that would balloon the federal deficit and slash hundreds of billions in Medicare funding for senior citizens.
A week earlier, Enzi claimed in a statement that negotiators should craft a bill that would attract the support of 75 or 80 senators, something Democrats say would be so non-controversial as to be feckless.
In response, the White House suggested that Democrats should consider dropping Enzi from negotiations.
“I think Sen. Enzi’s clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship and decided that it’s time to walk away from the table,” Gibbs said.
Enzi, however, said he will stay the course, despite White House criticism. "I will continue down a bipartisan path in hopes of passing a healthcare reform bill the American people will support."
Democratic leaders have set a Sept. 15 deadline for the Gang-of-Six negotiations. Democratic and Republican negotiators have objected, claiming they are not bound by any deadline.