GOP warns of 'explosion' if Dems use reconciliation to force health reform

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Sunday that any Democratic attempt to push healthcare reform legislation through the Senate with a simple majority would be mean that Democrats were "thumbing their nose at the American people."

"It would be the same thing as going to war without asking for permission," said Alexander, the third-ranking Senate Republican, echoing critiques once made by Democrats of President George W. Bush's push for the invasion in Iraq. Senior Democrats once slammed Bush for sending U.S. troops to Iraq without broad international support and with only the authorization to use force instead of a more specific vote on the war.

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Democrats are now considering using the budget reconciliation process to pass their proposed healthcare overhaul. Under reconciliation, the Democrats would only need 51 votes in the Senate to move ahead the bill instead of the usual 60 votes.

But Alexander, on "Fox News Sunday," warned that using the budget maneuver would lead to a bad bill, since Senate rules would require the Senate parliamentarian to strike out any provisions that had no significant effect on the deficit.

"You might be able to technically do it, but you would pay a price in the next election," Alexander added.

Both Alexander and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said that Democrats should slow down and try passing smaller healthcare reform bills instead of one large one. Gingrich said the vocal protests against the bill at town hall meetings and the falling support for President Barack Obama and his healthcare plan seen in polls in August should serve as a warning for Democrats against moving too quickly.

Gingrich said that if reconciliation was used for healthcare, "I think you'll have extraordinary explosion both in the Senate and in the country."

Obama is scheduled to give a speech on healthcare reform Wednesday before a joint session of Congress.

Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean urged Obama to continue pushing for a bill that includes a public insurance health plan.

"He's got to stand up and lead and be strong," Dean said.

Dean added that Obama, elected by a significant majority, needs to clearly lay out his plan to win politically.

"My experience in politics, if you don't use your majorities, you lose your majorities," he said.

John Podesta, who led Obama's transition team and served as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, said the public plan was the best way to introduce competition in the insurance market and bring down costs. But he suggested that Obama should be open to other options that would accomplish the same goals.

"We've talked about this a lot," he said. "It's time for people to get in and vote and see where the votes are in this Congress."


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