Collins hopeful about new health care bill

Posted Feb. 18, 2010, at 10 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A federal health care reform bill could be passed within six weeks, but only if partisan bickering is put aside, Sen. Susan Collins told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Collins said she is optimistic that a new bill will come out of next week’s bipartisan White House health care summit.

There is widespread support among senators of both parties for a bill that includes tax credits for small businesses and the self-employed, cost-containment measures, insurance market reforms and a focus on wellness and health-promotion programs, the Maine Republican said in an interview with the AP.

“I believe members of Congress and the administration are beginning to get the message sent by Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, and they’re hearing from their constituents that the American people want solutions and are tired of partisan gridlock and bitter rhetoric,” Collins said. “That partisan gridlock and bitter rhetoric tend to conceal there are many significant reforms both parties agree upon.”

Collins is viewed as a moderate Republican who could help provide a middle ground in the ongoing debate over health care reform.

Next week’s summit seeks to revive President Barack Obama’s health care reform efforts, which have stalled. If the summit goes as hoped, a bill could be put together and passed within six weeks, Collins said.

“My advice to our Republican leadership is: We should view this as a good faith effort and go in there with a consensus list of provisions that we could support and that would make a difference,” she said.

Meanwhile, the White House signaled Thursday that an aggressive, all-Democratic strategy for overhauling the nation’s health care system remains a serious option, even as Obama invites Republicans to next week’s televised summit to seek possible compromises.

The administration’s stance could set the stage for a political showdown with Democrats struggling to enact the president’s top domestic priority and Republicans trying to block what many conservatives see as government overreach.

A senior administration official said Democratic congressional leaders have nearly finished efforts to reconcile two health bills, which the House and Senate passed separately last year with practically no Republican help. Obama will use their legislation to expand coverage to some 30 million people and require most Americans to carry insurance as the basis for a proposal that the White House will post online by Monday, three days before the Feb. 25 summit, said the official.

He spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.

Obama says he is open to Republican ideas for changing the health care system. But many Democrats seriously doubt GOP leaders will support compromises that could draw enough lawmakers from both parties to create a bipartisan majority.

Health care reform is the No. 2 issue among Americans behind jobs, Collins said.

Any jobs bill should be targeted toward small businesses, because they’re creating the vast majority of new jobs these days, Collins said.

She expects a new jobs bill to be taken up on the Senate floor next week, but she would rather resurrect a bipartisan jobs bill that Senate Democrats scrapped last week.

“It was a good bill and it would have passed easily,” Collins said.

As the federal stimulus spending economic package enters its second year, Collins said it clearly has resulted in new jobs based on conversations she has had with business owners in Maine.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the Recovery Act has created and saved jobs,” she said. “But clearly more needs to be done. The current unemployment rate is far too high and the next bill needs more of a focus on stimulating the small-business sector.”

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