Washington » Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch pulled out of a bipartisan group seeking compromise on health reform Wednesday, saying they were going in a direction he just couldn't support.
His decision is a blow to what has been called the "gang of seven" in the Senate Finance Committee, the last group of lawmakers attempting to craft a proposal that would have some level of Republican support.
"It is a matter of honor that I don't want to pretend that I am helping them with something I just don't agree with," Hatch said. "What I don't want to do is mislead my colleagues."
The Utah Republican has a long list of concerns with how the bill is coming together, including the requirement that businesses either offer insurance or pay a fee to the government that would be used for health subsidizes for the poor, known as the employer mandate.
"I really believe that is going to cost a lot of low-income people's jobs," he said.
Hatch also dislikes the idea of expanding the number of people in Medicaid and a plan for a government controlled insurance option saying: "I know that it is just a constant push to get us all to a single-payer system."
The Democrats, prodded by President Barack Obama, say their plan will insure all Americans through an employer mandate and an individual requirement to have health insurance. They say costs will go down because people will no longer have to cover the costs of the uninsured.
Obama sees the government health insurance plan, known as the public option, as a key way to make sure private insurers don't keep the costs artificially high.
For months, health care negotiations remained collegial between Republicans and Democrats, but as the proposal has worked its way through Congress, conservatives have become increasingly hostile to the proposal.
Democratic leaders have long seen Hatch as one of the Republicans they could negotiate with because of his record of bipartisan health bills with the likes of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Hatch also liked the idea of reaching a deal with his longtime friend, but Kennedy has been absent from the Senate as he battles brain cancer.
He said it would take someone with Kennedy's clout with Democratic interest groups to bring everyone together to create a bill that could draw more than just majority party support. Votes in the House so far have broken on strictly partisan lines. The same is true of the Senate Health Committee, of which Hatch is a member.
Despite his decision to remove himself from the negotiations, Hatch said he hasn't lost hope for some sort of compromise.
"Sooner or later I think the president is going to have to realize that they are trying to build a bridge too far here, without the appropriate materials," he said. "They are going to have to sit down and realize that we have to do the art of the doable, not an expansion of health care we can't afford."
With Utah's Orrin Hatch dropping out of negotiations, six moderate senators will continue search for a health-care compromise.
» Max Baucus, Montana
» Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico
» Kent Conrad, North Dakota
» Mike Enzi, Wyoming
» Chuck Grassley, Iowa
» Olympia Snowe, Maine