Alexander Admits Senate GOP Will Obstruct Fixes To Improve Health Care Bill Simply For Partisan Gain

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"Alexander Admits Senate GOP Will Obstruct Fixes To Improve Health Care Bill Simply For Partisan Gain"

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) while running for president in 1999Yesterday, while discussing the Democrats procedural options for finishing health care reform, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein discussed how the political dynamics would change if the House passes the Senate bill and then a reconciliation bill with some substantive fixes is considered:

If the Senate bill is passed and Democrats are just getting rid of the Nebraska deal and easing the bite of the excise tax, Republicans will have a lot of trouble standing in the way and becoming defenders of the Nebraska deal and the excise tax. At that point, they’re not opposing health-care reform and instead opposing small, popular changes that make the bill better. They’re literally obstructing good government that fits with their recent rhetoric. After all, having spent the last few months hammering the Nelson deal, it doesn’t look very bipartisan to keep Democrats from taking your advice and reneging on it.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is one of those Republicans who has spent months “hammering the Nelson deal,” which he refers to as the “Cornhusker Kickback.” On Bill Bennett’s radio show today, Alexander — who admitted that health care reform would already be law if and when the Senate takes up reconciliation legislation — was pressed to explain why he would obstruct changes that would be positive in his view:

BENNETT: So what is the point of the obstruction — positive obstruction — of you all doing this if we’ve already lost the game?

ALEXANDER: Well, the point of our doing it is to not allow them to abuse the process further. I mean, they, we cannot allow the House or the president or any group of people to completely undermine the role of the Senate in American constitutional government, which is really to say that on big issues, we’re going to require consensus instead of majority and we need 60 votes.

BENNETT: I see. But the House bill that he would sign might be worse than the one with the amendments they’re trying to offer that you will debate.

ALEXANDER: Well, that’s a good point and but but but and we’ll…

BENNETT: It’ll have kickbacks, the Kickback and all that stuff.

ALEXANDER: We’ll have to, we’ll have to consider that as we go through the bill line by line, but basically, the Senate Republicans are not going to bail the House Democrats out by fixing a bill we all voted against.

Later in the interview, Alexander said that the GOP’s call to repeal health care reform “will define every congressional race in November.” Bennett then realized that Alexander was saying that blocking the fixes that Republicans approve of would benefit the party electorally. “Alright, that would be a rationale then for doing exactly what you’re doing in the Senate and letting that stinkbomb of a bill with all the kickbacks and all that stuff sit out there in the sun and fester,” said Bennett. Listen here:

After Alexander hung up the phone, Bennett praised him for his cynical plan to block fixes that he supports so that he can have a stronger argument going into the November elections. Bennett added that Alexander was “the definition of what a senator’s supposed to be” and “a living example of what the founders intended.”

Bennett then characterized Alexander’s argument — which he said could be used to scare House Democrats against voting for the Senate bill — as essentially saying, “they’re not going to fix it. The Republicans aren’t going to let you fix it. They want the most stinking mess there is sitting out there, rotting in the sun. So they can then repeal it. Why do they want to make your bill better?”

Matt Yglesias thinks Republicans may just be posturing about blocking reconciliation at all costs in order to psych out Democrats. “But once health reform does pass that House, that will be irrelevant,” writes Yglesias. “So are they going to vote no? If so, why? I doubt Senate Republicans want to end up on the receiving end of ads about special giveaways to Nebraska.”

Transcript:

BENNETT: Well, what, what is it you do now or what is it you can do, by you, I mean individually and collectively, the Senate. The action’s more in the House now, right?

ALEXANDER: The action is in the House and what senators and all of us should do is say to members of the House don’t pass this bill. Because when they pass it, the president signs it into law, then of course, at the same time they vote for it they’re going to vote against it, that’s the new trick. And they’re going to send over to the Senate a bill to quote fix it. Well, they’re not going to be able to fix it because there are rules in the Senate and Republicans are going to insist on following the rules in this reconciliation process. And we’re going line by line through three thousand pages and saying, “you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.”

BENNETT: Well, wait, we is the Senate or the House?

ALEXANDER: We is the Senate.

BENNETT: Ok, you’re going to do that when it gets to you, if it gets to you.

ALEXANDER: That’s right. So, first the House passes this bill, which has two parts. They vote for it and they vote against it. They send the part they voted for to the President, that’s the Senate bill nobody likes. He signs it in to law and that’s over. That’s done. Then they send us the second part of what they passed and that’s called “let’s fix what we just did that we claim that we don’t like.” And they expect the Senate to bail them out, but all 41 Republican senators have signed a letter saying we’re not going to bail you out. We’re going to follow the rules and if you send over to us things like the abortion language, you cannot fix that in this budget taxing process. This is an awful way to write a big complex piece of legislation and there will be many problems with it.

BENNETT: Alright, so you’ll object to those and this will be a time consuming process. What happens to the first part that went to the president, has already signed? Is that law?

ALEXANDER: It’s law.

BENNETT: So, then it takes effect.

ALEXANDER: It takes effect. It’s law, regardless of what the Senate does.

BENNETT: So what is the point of the obstruction — positive obstruction — of you all doing this if we’ve already lost the game?

ALEXANDER: Well, the point of our doing it is to not allow them to abuse the process further. I mean, they, we cannot allow the House or the president or any group of people to completely undermine the role of the Senate in American constitutional government, which is really to say that on big issues, we’re going to require consensus instead of majority and we need 60 votes.

BENNETT: I see. But the House bill that he would sign might be worse than the one with the amendments they’re trying to offer that you will debate.

ALEXANDER: Well, that’s a good point and but but but and we’ll…

BENNETT: It’ll have kickbacks, the Kickback and all that stuff.

ALEXANDER: We’ll have to, we’ll have to consider that as we go through the bill line by line, but basically, the Senate Republicans are not going to bail the House Democrats out by fixing a bill we all voted against.

BENNETT: I gotcha. I gotcha. Wow. I mean it’s really something, isn’t it. This is really, I heard you on TV the other day, you were talking about Watergate, not since Watergate or Clinton impeachment, I can’t remember.

ALEXANDER: No, I was talking about Watergate. I said it was the most brazen act of political arrogance that I could remember since Watergate, which was 1974. And I don’t mean by that breaking the law. I mean by that just thumbing your nose at the American people and say, you know, we’ve heard you in town meetings and we’ve heard you in elections and we’ve heard you in consistent public opinion polls. We know you don’t want it but we’re going to jam it anyway. And it’s also the first time that we’ve ever passed a big piece of social legislation by a purely partisan vote. Pat Moynihan used to say, whom you knew very well and the late Democratic senator, that you don’t want to do that because you’re not only trying to pass it, you’re trying to pass it in a way that the country will accept like the civil rights bills or the Medicare, Medicaid. So, they all had more than 70 votes. This one had just a partisan majority and I think what it will do is kick off a spontaneous campaign across the country to attempt to repeal it and it will define every congressional race in November.

BENNETT: Well, that now, alright, that would be a rationale then for doing exactly what you’re doing in the Senate and letting that stinkbomb of a bill with all the kickbacks and all that stuff sit out there in the sun and fester.

ALEXANDER: Yep, put it to the American people and say ok, you know, they’ve jammed it through in a partisan way. The President actually said at the summit, this may be his most memorable words there, that that’s what elections are for.

BENNETT: Yeah.

ALEXANDER: And he said last September that the health care bill is a proxy debate on the roll of the federal government in American life. We think he’s right about that and maybe it’s just a question should be put to the people in November and let them, let them say this is what they think.

BENNETT: We had, gonna let you go, we know you’re very busy, thank you very much for checking in. But let me just ask you this. We had Byron York on yesterday. We’ve talked to some other excellent political reporters who say they don’t have the votes now and he thinks and some others think they’re bluffing. They’re not going to get the votes in the House.

ALEXANDER: Well, I, that could be.

BENNETT: I mean, Dennis Kucinich was with the president yesterday in Strongville, on the plane. He took Dennis with him. Did you know this?

ALEXANDER: Yes. I saw that.

BENNETT: Twisted his arm the whole way and it was still no when they got back to Washington. Now, A, when you’re working that much time on Dennis Kucinich, you’re, you know, you’re, you’ve got a problem.

ALEXANDER: Well, and they’re probably, they’re, they’re going through such an awkward bizarre procedure here, which is one of the things the American people don’t like, that it’s bound to cause them problems. For example, one of their options is literally that wrap all this up in one vote and have the members of House who are Democrats literally vote for the bill and vote against it at the same time. Now after all the other tricks they’ve pulled. How are you going to go home and explain that to people?

BENNETT: Yeah, yeah. Alright folks, this is the definition of what a senators supposed to be. That cooling saucer. That deliberateness, that thoughtfulness. Thank you. Thank you for being a living example of what the founders intended sir.

ALEXANDER: Thank you Bill Bennett.

BENNETT: Ok, Lamar Alexander, thank you very much. Even, calm, thoughtful, this is what they were made for. This is what they were made to do. I understand it now. You see what they’re doing. They’re saying we’re going to pass this bill so we get this thing done, the Senate bill. We don’t like it, so now we have to fix it. So they’re saying to, here’s one other dimension to this. So they’re saying to Stupak, “well, sign on, we know you don’t like the abortion provisions, but the president will sign this and then this other thing will go up and we’ll fix it.” But Stupak can say, based on what Lamar was just saying, “they’re not going to fix it. The Republicans aren’t going to let you fix it. They want the most stinking mess there is sitting out there, rotting in the sun. So they can then repeal it. Why do they want to make your bill better. Why do they want to make something they disagree with more pallitable to the American people.” So, that argument seems to me to wavering Democrats, will fail. If that is that if their vote is conditional on the legislation being improved by the Senate, they would not want to vote for it because you just heard from Republican conference chair they’re not going to improve it.

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