Reid Compares Health Battle to Emancipation, Women's Suffrage

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET with GOP reaction.

While members of his own party have yet to reach a consensus on certain elements of health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today called the united GOP opposition to the bill akin to opposition against women's suffrage and the emancipation of slaves.

"Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans have come up with is this 'slow down, stop everything, let's start over,'" Reid said on the Senate floor today, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer John Nolen reports. "You think you've heard these same excuses before? You're right."

"In this country, there were those who dug in their heels and said, 'Slow down, it's too early. Let's wait. Things aren't bad enough,' about slavery," he continued. "When women [wanted] to vote-- 'Slow down, there will be a better day to do that.'... When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today."

The senator went on to ask when Congress should reform health care, if not now.

"There are now those who don't think it is the right time to reform health care," he said. For those who feel that way, he added, "it will never, never be a good time to reform health care."

Republicans countered that Reid's comments were "desparate," CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Jill Jackson reports.

"They are so desperate that it is unbelievable," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) said at the GOP's health care press conference today. "For Senator Reid to go out this morning and make such an outlandish statement like he made is just another indication of the desperation that the Democrats are showing and the pressure which they are feeling."

Standing with Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John Thune (S.D.), Chambliss added, "I look behind me here, the three of us all voted for the civil rights bill… it's a pretty desperate act."

Coburn said that Republicans agree with Democrats that there needs to be health care reform. However, he said, "because we've been shut out of the process, we don't agree with a government centered program rather than a patient centered program, we are castigated as people who don't care about other people."

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