By Alexander Bolton - 12/10/09 11:00 AM EST
Rush Limbaugh and conservative interest groups are criticizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for not putting up a strong enough fight to stop the Democratic healthcare legislation.
The conservative talk radio host has questioned McConnell’s strategy a few times on his program this week, joining a chorus of growing critics who say the Senate GOP leader is aiding Democrats by allowing the chamber to debate and vote on amendments.
Aides to McConnell called Limbaugh’s show to explain their tactics, but the conservative pundit did not seem to buy it.
“They are up there adding amendments. There’s no question they’re adding amendments to it. McConnell’s office did call here and say that they are opposing this, so I don’t know if adding amendments is a strategery [sic] to bollix it up and slow it down. But I — I disagree. They just need to say no; there’s nothing wrong with saying no to this!” Limbaugh said Tuesday.
Limbaugh took another shot at Senate Republicans on his show Wednesday.
“The Senate Republican leadership strategy here was flawed because it allowed the Democrats to take the offensive, buy time to work out a deal,” Limbaugh said. “I know a disaster when I see it. And I know that it’s gotta be stopped, and whatever parliamentary steps are available to people ... should have been taken.”
The Gun Owners of America went even further, blasting McConnell in an e-mail sent to members in Kentucky, noting previous times McConnell failed to stop legislation and accusing the GOP leader of helping Democrats advance the “ObamaCare legislation.”
The group noted that there is a “substantial cadre of Senate Republicans who want to slow down” the bill.
“But rather than delaying this legislation and allowing the American people the time to continue building opposition against socialized healthcare, Sen. McConnell seems all too willing to speed the bill along,” the group said.
Critics say it will be even more difficult for centrists Democrats such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) to support the controversial bill in an election year.
Some GOP senators agree with conservative critics that lawmakers should focus their efforts on blocking debate instead of processing amendments.
“We all have different feelings about this,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “I would have preferred, and the leadership decided otherwise, to handle it in the way of not making [the bill] any better by introducing amendments that might make it better.”
Inhofe said the bill has such low public approval and appears to lack enough votes to pass the Senate that the best way to kill it is to leave it as is.
“You really need to ask the leadership [about strategy], because we’re not all united in how we would approach this,” he said. Inhofe added, however, that he did not want to appear critical of his leadership, and called its strategy another good option.
GOP lawmakers have used the floor debate to point out that the Democratic bill would cut hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare spending and raise hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes. They also have argued the legislation will increase insurance premiums, a point Democrats have fiercely contested.
“Republicans have to stick together on a strategy of highlighting Medicare cuts, tax increases and insurance premium increases,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the leadership. “Ultimately the goal is to stop the bill. Processing amendments puts Democrats on record and helps educate people about the bill.”
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) rebutted Limbaugh’s criticism.
“The strategy is working,” Johanns said of McConnell’s plan to wage the healthcare fight. “The strategy is through the amendment process to put out the issues on this bill. Every poll shows that American people, once they understand this bill, are passionately opposed to it. You only get there with amendments that show what they [Democrats] are doing to Medicare.”
Others are unconvinced.
Conservative activist members of the Tea Party, which led loud protests of Democratic healthcare proposals over the summer, has also turned its sights on the GOP.
The Tea Party and the conservative-leaning Social Security Institute sent out 1.5 million e-mail messages on Monday asking recipients to urge GOP senators to take a tougher stance in opposition.
“Shame on Republican Senators!” said the e-mail alert. “They are paving the way for ObamaCare to be enacted into law this year because they want to go on Christmas Vacation.
“In exchange for this collaboration with the enemy, the Democratic Leadership is assuring Republicans they will be allowed to offer their own ‘message amendments’ and that Republicans will not be forced to work long hours through the night during this holiday season,” the message stated.
Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger with RedState.com, summed up the criticism among the grass roots.
“With amendments to the Obama government healthcare [bill] takeover sailing through the Senate almost as quickly as they’re read, some conservative insiders are wondering why the GOP is not taking advantage of Senate rules to slow down the votes and delay the final vote until after Christmas,” he wrote.
A GOP leadership aide countered that Senate Republicans have a clear strategy but are limited in how much they can share with activists because they do not want to tip their hand to Democrats.
The Gun Owners of America strongly opposes the Democratic healthcare bill because of concerns that it could lead to further restrictions of gun-ownership rights.
The group has warned members that a major expansion of the government’s role in healthcare “will most likely dump your gun-related health data in a government database.”
Larry Pratt, executive director of the group, said in an interview that people who have undergone treatment for mental maladies such as depression could find themselves more easily barred from owning firearms.
Pratt also said that some insurance firms already charge higher premiums to people who own firearms and that the Obama administration could decide that citizens with collections of weapons tend to live unhealthy lifestyles. He said administration officials could boost gun owners’ insurance premiums to persuade them to get rid of their handguns and shotguns.