Dem-turned-GOP cites healthcare debate as reason for switch in party's address

Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.) on Saturday stressed he joined the ranks of the Republicans last December because the Democratic Party had "lost its way" in the healthcare debate.

As congressional Democrats ready their final push on reform legislation, aiming to deliver a bill to the president's desk by the month's end, Griffith framed his defection in the GOP's weekly radio address as one motivated by his former party's pursuit of policies "dangerous for our country and out of step with our values."

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"Given all that’s at stake, I realized that being a voice of dissent and a vote of conscience was not enough," Griffith said. "Shortly before Christmas, after much thought and prayer, I decided to align myself with House Republicans, who have stood on principle to fight this big-government agenda and offer better solutions to the challenges facing our country."

Republicans have long trumpeted Griffith's defection as a sign that Democrats are losing the support of voters and lawmakers who occupy the political center.

But the GOP touted Griffith's decision to deliver the GOP address this weekend, in particular, as a "shot across the bow" at moderate Democrats, some of whom may still be on the fence about their party's healthcare bill, one GOP aide said Friday.

Still, House Democratic leaders have insisted this week they will have the votes to pass an amended version of the Senate's healthcare legislation before the end of the month.

Meanwhile, top Senate Democrats say they will be able to approve fixes to their chamber's healthcare bill using the 51-vote reconciliation process -- a tactic President Barack Obama endorsed in a speech on Thursday.

But Griffith took shots at both legislative approaches during his address this weekend.

The conservative congressman lambasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for abandoning language in her chamber's healthcare bill that would prohibit federal dollars from funding abortions. That provision, drafted chiefly by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), has been replaced with its slightly less restrictive Senate version.

It remains unclear, however, whether the switch will lose House Democrats a critical number of pro-life votes within the party's own caucus.

Griffith later described Senate Democrats' push to use reconciliation as a "toxic, controversial legislative scheme" that would allow party leaders "to make a few last-minute backroom deals and rely on only Democratic votes."

His line seemed to suggest that Senate Democrats could include, or at least leave intact, deals similar to the one hatched out between party leaders and Sen. Ben Nelson (D), who won for his state of Nebraska a key Medicare exemption that was eventually nixed. 


"Reconciliation is by no means a cure-all that would permit drastic changes to improve the bill," Griffith said.

Consequently, Griffith repeated the GOP's oft-cited charge that Democrats ought to "start over with a clean sheet of paper and [try] a step-by-step approach" to healthcare reform. He ultimately stressed the "American people have said loudly and clearly that they do not want this job-killing government takeover of care."

"Republicans understand that the right way to fix healtcare is by a step-by-step approach focused on lowering costs," the congressman said.

"My fellow Americans, it’s not too late: we can, and we must, stop this government takeover of healthcare," Griffith continued. "Make your voice heard now. America deserves better."