Alexander: Dems Are on "Kamikaze Mission"

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on "The Early Show," December 7, 2009.
CBS
Calling the Democrats "tone-deaf" in hearing what Americans want in health care reform, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee charged that the president and Congressional Democrats were guilty of the most brazen act of political arrogance since Watergate.

Alexander also disputed remarks by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that Republicans were acting simply to block or stall action in Congress for their own political benefit.

"We're not trying to end the health care debate, we're trying to change it," Alwexander said. "We're trying to say the American people don't want higher individual premiums, higher taxes, Medicare cuts. They don't want an increase in the deficit. They're wondering why if we're trying to reduce costs it costs a trillion dollars?

"So what we ought to do this week is defeat this bill."

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"You have said on the record that Republicans will challenge every sentence in this bill. What does that mean?" asked host Bob Schieffer. "Does that mean you'll try to try to throw up procedural road blocks? Offer amendments? Let's say that the House does pass this and it does come back to the Senate - what happens then?"

"Here's what the House Democrats are being asked to do: They're being asked by the president to hold hands, jump off a cliff and hope Harry Reid catches them in the Senate," Alexander said. "All 41 Republican senators have agreed that we're going to enforce the rules of the Senate, which means, for example, that the only things they can change have to do with taxing and budget. So they try to change abortion, that won't work. We're going to go sentence by sentence through the 3,000-page bill to make sure the rules are followed. That's what the American people would expect us to do."

The reconciliation bill the Democrats are using is not open to a filibuster, the procedure by which any bill lacking 60 votes to pass is almost automatically tabled.

"Will you try, as some say, to filibuster by amendment? Will you offer an endless number of amendments?" Schieffer asked.

"Well, we'll certainly offer a large number of amendments to try to correct the bill," he replied.

Despite Barack Obama winning the 2008 election on a campaign to reform health care, Alexander said, "Through elections, through town meetings, through consistent public opinion surveys, Americans have said 'Don't pass this bill.'

"This is the most brazen act of political arrogance that I can remember since the Watergate years, not in terms of breaking the law but in terms of thumbing your nose at the American people and saying, 'We know you don't want it, we're going to give it to you anyway.'"

While predicting political suicide for Democrats, Alexander said he hoped they did not follow through on their plans: "I hope what the House Democrats decide is, 'We don't want to do that - we don't want a year like 1974 when people came down out of the mountains in Tennessee looking for Republicans so they would know who to vote against, we want to work with the Republicans and try to let people buy insurance across state lines,' to the other things we suggested at the health care summit and reduce health care costs."

"Aren't Republicans also putting everything on the line by just being universally totally against this?' Schieffer asked. "Can a party get elected just by saying 'no'? Is that a successful campaign tactic?"

"No, it's not. It's not what we've done," Alexander said. "What the president is trying to do is to expand a health care system that everybody knows is unaffordable. What we want to do is reduce the cost of the health care system.

"I'm willing to put it to a vote; I hope we don't have to for the country. I mean, the most important words the president may have uttered in the summit were 'That's what elections are for.'

"[President Obama] said last year that the health care debate is not just about health care, it's a proxy for the larger issue of the role of government in American lives. We think he's right about that."

"You have said, I believe, that it would be catastrophic for the Democrats if this legislation passes. From just the standpoint of straight politics, why wouldn't it be a good idea for Republicans to let it pass?" asked Schieffer.

"If we were completely irresponsible, that's what we would do," he replied. "I think it's a political kamikaze mission for the Democrats to insist on this. Pat Moynihan used to say that no big piece of social legislation has been jammed through by a partisan vote. Johnson had Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, all had 70 votes.

"I think from the day this passes, if it should, there will be an instant, spontaneous campaign to repeal it all across the country. It will define every Democratic Congressional race in November. And it will be a political wipeout for the Democratic Party. That will be bad for the country, but it will change the leadership of the country.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.