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Exchanges at the health care summit

February 26, 2010

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On reconciliation

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee: “Mr. President, renounce this idea of going back to the Congress and jamming through on a bipartisan - I mean on a partisan - vote through a little-used process we call reconciliation. You can say that this process has been used before, and that would be right. But it’s never been used for anything like this.’’

Senator Harry Reid, majority leader, of Nevada: “Now, we as leaders here, the speaker and I, have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this. Of course it’s not the only way out. But remember, since 1981, reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it’s been used by Republicans.’’

President Obama: “I think most Americans think that a majority vote makes sense.’’

On the process

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona: “Both of us during the campaign promised change in Washington. . . . Unfortunately, this product was not produced in that fashion. It was produced behind closed doors. It was produced with unsavory - I say that with respect - deal-making.’’

President Obama: “We’re not campaigning anymore. The election is over.’’

McCain: “Well, I - I’m reminded of that every day.’’

On starting over with incremental changes vs. comprehensive change

Senator Alexander: “We have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper. . . . Our country is too big, too complicated, too decentralized for Washington, a few of us here, just to write a few rules about remaking 17 percent of the economy all at once.’’

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa: “We spent one year considering a range of ideas from experts from all over the political spectrum. Two committees . . . held over 100 bipartisan meetings and walk-throughs to discuss this bill. Our bill contains over 147 distinct Republican amendments . . . We’re sinking. We’re drowning, in this country, on health care. An incremental approach is like a swimmer who’s 50 feet offshore drowning, and you throw him a 10-foot rope.’’

On costs

Representative Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin: “Health inflation is driving us off of a fiscal cliff. . . . This bill does not control costs. This bill does not reduce deficits. Instead, this bill adds a new health care entitlement at a time when we have no idea how to pay for the entitlements we already have.’’

Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California: “The Congressional Budget Office, the referee - not political parties, the referee - said that these bills reduce the deficit in the succeeding years, after the first 10 years, by over $1 trillion.’’

On Medicare

Senator Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming: “Seniors out there are really nervous. Seniors are the ones objecting the most to the program, and it’s because they see half a trillion dollars coming out of their program.’’

Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota: “If we really want to endanger the benefits to people who are getting Medicare, the best way to do that is to do nothing. Because if we do nothing, we will guarantee that Medicare goes broke.’’

On bipartisanship

President Obama: “It became a very partisan battle, and politics, I think, ended up trumping practical common sense. . . . What I’m hoping to accomplish today is for everybody to focus not just on where we differ, but focus on where we agree, because there actually is some significant agreement on a host of issues.’’

Senator Enzi: “When Senator Kennedy and I were working bills, we’d set down some principles and then put some detail in, and then draft the bills together. . . . It works. In a three-year period, he and I got 38 bills signed by the president. . . . unless we go through that kind of a process, I don’t think we’re going to - I don’t think we can get to the bipartisan thing.’’

On insurers

Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia: “The health insurance industry is the shark that swims just below the water, and you don’t see that shark until you feel the teeth of that shark. . . . They can do what they want and they do, and it’s money. It’s money. And it makes me sick. It shouldn’t happen in America. People say: ‘Well, government-run. You’re going to do this or put that restriction on them.’ If you don’t put the restriction on them, they’re going to go on doing this. This is a rapacious industry that does what it wants.’’

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