Healthcare, war-funding rhetoric heating up

A day before the long-awaited committee markup of a $1.3 trillion healthcare bill, Senate Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday pressed their attacks over the bill’s cost and schedule.

Hopes for bipartisanship continued to fade throughout the day, as Democrats vowed to stick to their plan for a final vote before the congressional recess in August and Republicans complained the bill was being rushed. President Obama has asked for a bill by mid-October.

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GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) pointed to the Congressional Budget Office estimate of the healthcare bill’s $1.3 trillion price tag as proof that the Senate should slow down the legislation and consider it more carefully.

“It would be highly irresponsible in the extreme to take up a bill that affects 16 percent of the economy without bill language, without scores, and on a rapid time-frame,” McConnell said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) flatly rejected the GOP charge, noting that Republicans are raising similar concerns about the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and climate change legislation.

“We’re moving too fast on healthcare. We’re moving far too fast, in their minds, on energy. And certainly we’re moving far too fast on Sotomayor,” Reid said. “Is there anything we’re moving just right? Obviously they don’t like anything happening. They should get (GOP pollster Frank) Luntz to give them some new talking points.”

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is scheduled to take up the healthcare bill Wednesday, with the Finance Committee following next week.

Reid also said Tuesday that a $108 billion military supplemental will likely arrive in the Senate on Wednesday, with a final vote later in the week. The supplemental is in the House, after conferees reconciled the different versions passed by the two chambers last week.

Concerns were raised about the potential release of photos depicting abuse of detainees being held by the U.S., and Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to shut down the Senate if their amendment to ban release of the photos isn’t included in the supplemental.

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Reid said the two senators are continuing to negotiate with the White House on some kind of provision to accomplish that, but Reid predicted Lieberman will support the supplemental.

Reid noted that a federal court has issued a stay in the ACLU’s lawsuit to force release of the photos, and that Obama has pledged to stand behind his decision against releasing them. Because of those factors, Reid said the Senate has no reason not to support the supplemental.

“If someone wants to vote against the bill, funding the troops, when there should be absolutely no concern about these photos — why?” Reid said. “The bill’s there. People should vote for the bill because it’s the right thing to do. There’s no concern about the photographs.”

Reid sidestepped a question about the Iranian elections, saying for the second day in a row that the U.S. should not meddle in the election dispute, though he acknowledged concern over the rising violence.

“I have a problem with what has gone on in Iran,” Reid said. “I have a problem for basic human rights, freedom of the press and fair elections. I think it would be wrong for the United States to start judging who was the rightful elected leader in Iran, but I think we have every right to comment on what we see, and we’re doing that … It’s up to the people of Iran to pick their leader.”