Sen. Alexander Blasts Obama Health Proposal
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Joining us now is Republican Senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander. Hes been a leader for the Republicans on health care. Thank you very much for being with us, Senator.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Now, President Obama says he included best ideas from Democrats and Republicans, including many ideas raised at last weeks summit. Has the president, in your estimation, gone far enough?
Sen. ALEXANDER: No, he hasnt. Its kind of like putting a couple of rear view mirrors on a car going in the wrong direction. I mean, he added three small ideas to a 2,700-page bill. The problem is it still has a half-trillion dollars in new taxes, still has a half-trillion in Medicare cuts, it still has premium increases for millions of Americans. It still will increase the deficit because they dont pay doctors who serve Medicare patients and it adds big costs to states. So, its the same old bill.
NORRIS: He, though, says that he is showing good faith by listening to the Republicans, by including their ideas. And I think he would probably point out that Democrats, after all, are in control.
Sen. ALEXANDER: Well, he has pointed out the Democrats are in control. In fact, he may have listened but he didnt act based upon that. And the Democrats are basically saying to the American people whove tried to say in every way they know how - through polls, elections, town meetings, we dont want this bill. The president is saying, we dont care, we think we know whats right and were going to jam it through anyway with a partisan vote.
NORRIS: However, there are several polls that show that if you actually ask Americans not just sort of on a broad base but ask them more specifically about things that are inside the bill, the support is actually quite high. Im looking at a Kaiser Family Foundation poll that showed that when people - when asked about helping to close the Medicare donut hole, 71 percent support that. Providing tax cuts to small businesses, 72 percent support that. Expanding high risk insurance pools, 70 percent support that. So, that seems to fly in the face of what you were saying about Americans not wanting this bill.
Sen. ALEXANDER: No, no, of course, everybody - Im surprised its that low, of course, it does. But when you tell them youre going to have to raise taxes a half-trillion dollars, when youre going to send big costs to states that are already broke, that will cause them to raise college tuitions and state taxes. And when youre going to increase the federal debt and pass a two-and-half trillion dollar bill, when you tell them all that, they say, whoa, I dont want to do that, lets stop and start over, which is exactly what Republicans have been saying.
NORRIS: Youve noted something that the president and his party seem like theyre trying to jam this down Republicans throat, jam this process through. Its already passed the Senate with a super majority, its passed the House, and based on that the president does want to push this through. Is this not something that Republicans have done in the past, though? Why should the rules change now that Democrats are in control?
Sen. ALEXANDER: Well, youre right to say that over the last 20 years both parties have used this little-used procedure but never for something this big and never in such a partisan way. When I was a very young aide on the Hill I remember that Lyndon Johnson, who had big Democratic majorities in Congress, had the civil rights bills written in Everett Dirksens office. He was the Republican leader and he got more than 70 votes. And the reason was he didnt just want to pass it. He knew it was controversial and he wanted the country to have confidence in it. He didnt want them trying to repeal it as soon as it was passed, which is what will happen here if its jammed through.
NORRIS: Now, I understand that its a fantastic example to reach back to Lyndon Johnson but Im going to reach back a little bit more recently in history and cite President Bush and his tax cuts. Didnt he use a very similar procedure to push through that?
Sen. ALEXANDER: He did and, of course, the reconciliation procedure is for the purpose of taxing and spending not for rewriting one-seventh of the economy, which is the health care industry.
NORRIS: So, I guess Im not clear on the difference there.
Sen. ALEXANDER: The difference? Well, the budget procedure in the Senate is for the purpose of dealing with taxing and spending measures. And the Bush tax cuts were tax cuts. It was never intended, as Senator Byrd, the senior Democrat said, for rewriting one-seventh of the American economy. Senator Byrd said not long ago that to run the health care bill through the Senate in this way would, like a freight train, would be an outrage. It would basically end the role of the Senate as a place where you require consensus for big measures. And its not so much the procedure, its the partisan nature of it.
NORRIS: Senator, thank you very much for making time for us. Good to talk to you.
Sen. ALEXANDER: Thanks for your time.
NORRIS: Thats Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.