Kyl: Dems have already decided how to force health bill through

Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona on Sunday threw more cold water on the chances that his party would cooperate with a Feb. 25 healthcare reform summit at the White House, protesting that Democrats already seem poised to force a bill through Congress.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Kyl echoed a claim that congressional Republicans have made for the past week, that President Barack Obama and House and Senate Democrats intend the summit as a public display and not a genuine dialogue. He quoted a recent Wall Street Journal article that asserted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has “set the stage” for using reconciliation to pass the bill. That controversial legislative tactic could allow the bill to pass the Senate with 51 votes instead of 60 as usually required to break a filibuster.

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“What that means is they’ve devised the process by which they can jam the bill through that the president has supported in the past, without Republican ideas in it,” Kyl told CNN host Candy Crowley.

“Reconciliation is not the process for comprehensive bills like this. It’s for balancing the budget… I don’t know why we would be having a bipartisan summit down at the White House if they’ve already decided on this other process by which they’re going to jam the bill through.”

Instead, Kyl called for redrafting the legislation from scratch — another common GOP claim in recent weeks — and argued that it should start with limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.

“It’s not a matter of taking this or that out of the Senate-passed bill or the House-passed bill, it’s a matter of starting with basic principles and going one step at a time, solving particular problems,” Kyl said. “For example, everyone believes there’s this ‘jackpot justice’ system we have and we need medical malpractice reform.”

On the package of job-growth provisions that the Senate will take up when it returns from recess on Feb. 22, Kyl said Republicans still object to elements of the plan. He pointed to the Democratic approach to assisting state governments with expanded bonding authority and helping small businesses through tax breaks. Kyl said the federal government cannot afford a “subsidy” to state governments, and that the GOP prefers to assist small businesses by keeping tax rates steady and not allowing any increases.

On foreign policy, however, Kyl found more common ground with Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser who has recently returned from a five-day trip to Afghanistan and pronounced the U.S. mission there as improved and stabilizing. Kyl flatly said he agreed.

Also appearing on “State of the Union,” Jones also told Crowley that he agreed with the assessment of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen that the U.S. military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military should be rescinded. He compared the debate to past arguments over racial integration in the military as well as a bygone clash over whether women should serve in the armed forces. In each case, he said the result has been “a force-multiplier” and that the population at large appears ready to accept the idea of homosexuality in the military.

Kyl said he disagreed with Jones on that point, aligning himself with Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) continued opposition to ending the policy.

Jones painted a brightening picture of stability in Afghanistan, explaining that U.S. officials are watching Afghan President Hamid Karzai closely. He said the Obama administration trusts Karzai’s appointments, believes in his commitments and that he personally is “more confident now than at any time in the past” that Afghan security forces will soon be poised to take over their country from U.S. control.

Jones also defended officials’ handling of the so-called “Christmas Day bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, saying that the suspect has been cooperative with U.S. authorities and has provided “satisfying” information. Republicans have been critical of the administration’s choice to provide Abdulmutallab with his Miranda rights before a lengthy interrogation.

On the difficulty of persuading Iran to co-operate with diplomatic efforts, Jones said it is “puzzling to say the least” why the country has refused overtures to negotiate and has instead pursued an aggressive posture. Jones said punishing Iran with sanctions now appears “the right thing to do” and that most of the major countries support the effort — except for China, with whom the U.S. is still “working” on the issue.

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