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White House touts supportive Republicans on healthcare
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has adopted a new tactic in its push for healthcare reform: touting the support of Republicans outside of Washington after failing to win any backing for overhaul plans in Congress from members of the party on Capitol Hill.
Seeking to portray opponents of the legislation as isolated from mainstream America and even from prominent members of the Republican Party, the White House on Tuesday distributed a statement from Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's Republican governor, urging the passage of national healthcare reform.
On Monday, it sent out a statement by Tommy Thompson, a former Republican governor of Wisconsin and presidential candidate who was former President George W. Bush's health secretary, endorsing a plan coming through the Senate Finance Committee.
"It (the plan) moves us down the path of providing affordable high-quality health care for all and expanding coverage for millions," said Thompson's statement, issued with Richard Gephardt, a former Democratic leader in Congress.
The Senate Finance Committee, the last of five panels in Congress to move on healthcare legislation, aims to vote within days on Obama's top domestic policy priority, an effort meant to cut costs, regulate insurers and expand health insurance coverage to the millions of Americans now going without.
Republican leaders said the Republicans' positions were misrepresented by the White House and that they shared the concerns raised by congressional Republicans.
"The influx of headlines breathlessly claiming support for health care reform amongst Republicans is puzzling considering Republicans have been calling for reform for months," said a statement from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's office.
"It is the details of the health care reform proposals before Congress that are extremely concerning for Republicans," McConnell's statement said.
No Republicans in Congress currently back the Finance Committee proposal to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, or any other put forward by Democrats. It is not clear whether any could muster the support even of all 60 Senate Democrats, which is needed to ensure passage.
Opponents say the plans are too expensive, especially in a time of economic recession and burgeoning budget deficits, and would raise taxes. Some also view the Democrats' plans as an unwarranted government intrusion in private industry.
Some Republicans also view defeating healthcare legislation as a good way to inflict political damage on Obama -- make it "his Waterloo," as Senator Jim DeMint said in July.
Democrats also touted pro-reform comments from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican who is now an independent, and Bill Frist, the former Republican U.S. Senate majority leader, who told Time magazine he would vote for the Finance Committee bill if he were still in the Senate.
"I hope that Republicans in Washington hear the message of Republicans all over the country that it's time to come in off the sidelines and actively get involved in making some serious progress on healthcare reform this year," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
The Obama administration used a similar approach when it was marshaling support for its economic stimulus plan in February, seeking the support of Republican governors for the massive program.
Frist later said proposals backed by congressional Democrats would raise taxes and increase insurance premiums and said he would not vote for any of them without major changes.
If the Finance Committee approves its bill, it would have to be merged with another Senate committee's before being considered by the full Senate. The House of Representatives is preparing to vote on its own version.
Measures passed by the House and Senate would then go to a conference committee to iron out of the differences. A final bill would then need passage in the House and Senate before going to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
(Editing by Will Dunham)
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