WASHINGTON — A leading GOP negotiator on health care struck a further blow to fading chances of a bipartisan compromise by saying Democratic proposals would restrict medical choices and make the country's "finances sicker without saving you money."
The criticism from Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., echoed that of many opponents of the Democratic plans under consideration in Congress. But Enzi's judgment was especially noteworthy because he is one of only three Republicans who have been willing to consider a bipartisan bill in the Senate.
In the Republicans' weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, Enzi said any health-care legislation must lower medical costs for Americans without increasing deficits and the national debt.
"The bills introduced by congressional Democrats fail to meet these standards," he said.
Enzi, together with Republican Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Olympia Snowe of Maine, has held talks with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. But the chance of a bipartisan breakthrough has diminished in the face of an effective public mobilization by opponents of Democratic proposals.
"I heard a lot of frustration and anger as I traveled across my home state this last few weeks," said Enzi, who has been targeted by critics for seeking to negotiate on legislation. "People in Wyoming and across the country are anxious about what Washington has in mind. This is big. This is personal. This is one of the most important debates of our lifetime."
He called for more competition among health insurers, for the ability of small businesses to band together across state lines to negotiate for lower-cost insurance plans, for tax breaks to help people buy insurance and for reducing malpractice lawsuits.
The debate over health care will resume in Washington after Labor Day, just two weeks after White House budget officials projected that deficits would total a staggering $9 trillion over the next 10 years. Though President Barack Obama has said he wants the total health-care bill paid for without adding to the deficit, congressional budget officials have estimated that House health-care proposals would cost the government more.
"The Democrats are trying to rush a bill through the process that will actually make our nation's finances sicker without saving you money," Enzi said.
Democrats also are calling for cuts in Medicare spending, using some of the savings to help uninsured workers. A House bill would result in a net reduction in Medicare of about $200 billion, though Obama has insisted the reductions would not cut benefits in the health program for the elderly.
But Enzi said: "This will result in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from the elderly to create new government programs."
He repeated Republican accusations that the Democrats' plans would result in less access to certain medical treatments, citing a proposed government board that would research the most effective medical practices.
"We're a nation of people who want the ability to choose what will best fit our families' needs and it should be that way with health care, too," Enzi said.