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GOP shows signs of balking at health plan

By Erica Werner
Associated Press / June 5, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama's hopes for a bipartisan deal on a healthcare overhaul took a hit yesterday as GOP senators protested a letter he wrote declaring support for a public insurance plan.

Such a plan would compete with private insurers and is opposed by nearly all Republicans. Obama long has supported it, but he had avoided going into detail about his goals, leaving the specifics to Congress and emphasizing hopes for a bipartisan bill.

That changed when Obama released a letter Wednesday to two leading Senate Democrats saying he believed strongly in the need for a new public plan.

"It wasn't helpful, it wasn't helpful," said Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which is taking a lead role in crafting a healthcare overhaul. "Words make a difference. And this made a difference."

"We were making great progress up until yesterday," said Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "The president laid down a fairly significant partisan marker when he said the proposal has to have a public plan."

Supporters of the public plan contend it would give people more choices, create more competition, and "keep insurance companies honest," as Obama wrote Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana.

Opponents argue that private insurers would go out of business, leaving an entirely government-run healthcare system.