Responding to criticism yesterday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid comparing those who seek to block reform of health care with those who opposed civil rights reform, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that liberals are playing the race card on this issue.
On Monday, Reid said that instead of joining Democrats on "the right side of history," the GOP's effort to "slow down, stop everything" were excuses similar to those who opposed the abolition of slavery and extending civil rights to all.
"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," said Reid. "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."
On CBS' "The Early Show" this morning, Steele said it was an "ignorant moment" for Reid.
"In fact, you know, I'm kind of sick and tired of the left and Democrats in this country when they get into trouble and don't get their way and their backs are up against the wall on legislation or whatever it is they're trying to do, they go to that card, they play that race card, that slavery card, that civil rights card.
"This has nothing to do with health care," Steele said. "If you have a philosophical or political or business disagreement with this administration or Harry Reid on health care, it has nothing to do with the historic roots of slavery. So it was an ignorant comment.
"Harry needs to go to the well of the Senate, take it back and apologize for offending the sensibilities of the American people on something so important," he told anchor Harry Smith.
In anticipation of President Barack Obama's speech today , Steele released a public letter to Mr. Obama saying that "health care reform has spiraled out of control," threatening to eat up money that could be used for job creation.
When asked if he supported the idea of using TARP funds which the banks have paid back towards job creation for small business (through tax credits and expanded loan guarantees, for example), Steele said, "It's fine if you're going to give the $200 billion directly to small businesses, and there are a number of ways in which that can happen."}
But he accused the president of being slow to address the issue of job growth. "Here we are in almost month 12 of this administration and we're just now beginning to have a serious conversation about job creation, and just sort of jerking from one thing to the next with respect to the underlying issue that this administration came into office talking about it would solve, and that is job creation, unemployment rates, and what to do with small businesses. So you know, another speech? Another summit?
"This is not rocket science. The bottom line is that wealth generation in this country comes from small business owners. They employ close to 70% of the nation's workforce. So why aren't we focused on them in January as opposed to December? Maybe our unemployment situation would look a little bit different today."
When asked by Smith what he thought was the biggest obstacle to job creation right now, Steele returned to health reform.
"The biggest obstacle is what you see in this health care bill, quite frankly," Steele said. "You're talking about the impact directly on small business owners through more regulation, more taxes and other burdens that are embedded into this health care bill that's not being put out on the table . . . this is why the chamber got in trouble because they looked at the bill, they paid attention, saw the impact on its members, and they know the impact it's going to have on small businesses. And I don't know how you're going to create incentives for small businesses on the one hand when you're putting regulatory burdens and tax burdens on them on the other."
When asked to comment on reports, because of continued opposition by some to creating a new government-backed insurance plan, that Democrats may try to expand Medicare instead, Steele conjured up both Ronald Reagan and a horror movie:
"Well, you know, here we go again! The public option was dead sometime over the summer and it came back like Frankenstein's monster, and now it's dead again. And I think the reality of it is, look, you've got the liberals in Congress who made it very clear, 'No public option, no vote.' And so I don't see how they get through this process without the public option in there if the president wants this bill passed before the end of the year - which we hope it doesn't happen."