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Frist and Daschle Will Hold Meetings, Produce Position Papers on Health Care

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

January 18, 2011 -- They're two former Senate Majority Leaders who may not agree on the ideal way to overhaul health care, but Tom Daschle and Bill Frist joined former Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in launching a two-year project aimed at building bipartisan solutions to the implementation of the health care law.

Officials leading the project, sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, plan to convene hearings in different sites around the country, issue white papers based on best practices that they can identify around a half-dozen health care issues, and perhaps issue a final report. The effort builds on the BPC's comprehensive health care overhaul plan, which was released in June 2009.

Democratic analyst Chris Jennings and Sheila Burke, who had served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., will lead the initiative.

The health care law "is not the bill I would've drafted but it is the law of land" and the platform upon which future changes to health care will be built, said Frist. "There are many strong elements" in the law that, as he put it, "need to be cuddled, need to be snuggled" and appreciated.

The former GOP majority leader applauded the deference that Congress gave to the states in implementing several features of the law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

"What we must find now are real bipartisan solutions," said Frist. That "doesn't mean abandoning principled leadership," he said, but it does mean talking in a "civil, respectful way" to people with different opinions.

However, Frist also said that challenges to the constitutionality of the law are "legitimate" and "totally separate" from efforts to implement the law. Attorneys general have filed lawsuits to the law, particularly targeting the requirement that most Americans buy health insurance starting in 2014.

Daschle said that he hopes that the administration will give states the maximum degree of flexibility in interpreting the law because states vary dramatically throughout the country. He also emphasized that government officials should do all they can to make sure health care dollars are being spent wisely.

Retired New Mexico Republican senator Pete V. Domenici, who was in the audience, cheered the new initiative.

"We need a melding of ideas from Democrats and Republicans," said Domenici.

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