By JAY ROOT
AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Rick Perry on Monday bashed Washington-style health care fixes, but he wouldn't rule out taking federal incentives for insuring more people if Congress offers them.
Perry criticized the Democratic plans to overhaul the U.S. health care system, including a proposal to let states "opt out" of a government-run health insurance system. He called it a "classic Washington bait and switch" because Texans would have to pay for the program whether it joined or not.
But Perry told reporters Monday that it's too early to say if Texas might take advantage of any optional federal programs.
"Until we see more clearly what Washington's plan is relative to this, sure, our options are open," Perry said.
Perry signed off on taking billions of dollars in federal stimulus money this year -- helping Texas lawmakers balance an otherwise shaky state budget -- even as he criticized Washington bailouts and excessive national debt.
The health care proposals working their way through Congress could give states a key role in deciding what kind of coverage their residents can get. As a way to make the plan more palatable to critics, some congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, are pushing a compromise that would allow states to opt out of the government-run health insurance provision.
Texas, where a quarter of the population lacks health insurance, leads the nation in the number of uninsured. Perry said he recognizes the need for reform but supports more modest, market-based solutions. He said, for example, that he favors initiatives allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines and proposals to help small businesses get better rates on employer-provided health care plans.
Perry, a Republican, has been a steadfast critic of the massive health care overhaul Washington Democrats are promoting.
"The federal government is doing what they do best and that is spending huge amounts of borrowed money on fixes that don't necessarily solve the problem," Perry said. "They want more control of your health care and they want it now."
Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, has made Washington a whipping post in his campaign for re-election. But in the health care debate, he finds himself on common ground with his lead Republican opponent, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. She has vowed to fight the overhaul, as she put it recently, "with every bone in my body."