Republicans use national TV forum to attack Democrats on health care

August 02, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders denounced the Democratic approach to health reform last night in a nationally televised policy forum amid an intense behind-the-scenes debate over what strategy the GOP should pursue on the issue that now dominates the national political landscape.

The hourlong program, carried live by C-Span and various satellite downlinks, was heralded as an attempt to show Americans that the GOP has its own solution to the nation's health care problems. Most of the time was spent depicting what the Republicans say the nation has to fear from the remedies proposed by President Clinton and congressional Democrats.

Republican House whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour spearheaded the assault, contending that Democratic-backed reforms would lower the quality of care, limit its availability, raise taxes and prices, lower wages and eliminate jobs.

"A law that hurts the quality of medical care is a serious risk to your health," said Mr. Barbour, summing up the theme of the evening.

But even as the GOP leaders sought to present a unified picture to the television audience, the intraparty argument over strategy raged.

"There have been more meetings on this issue involving more people and more organizations than anything I have seen in all my years in this city," said Republican political consultant Eddie Mahe, executive director of the Republican National Committee.

Some Republicans, fearful of being labeled obstructionists and supportive of some reforms, want to stress their willingness to join in a bipartisan package of cost controls, though they support a more limited role for government than do President Clinton and the Democratic Congressional leaders.

Others feel that any health care measure that passes will be labeled a Clinton achievement, giving Democrats a boost in this election year. "If health care passes, then gridlock is broken and Clinton wins," says GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who has been advising Republican leaders on the issue. "But if it doesn't, then Democrats who argue that it will hurt Republicans are crazy, because it's their president and their issue."

Among those considered to be determined to resist Democratic pressure to act is Mr. Gingrich. "If we can't get market-driven reform, we will oppose anything being done this year," Mr. Gingrich told other party leaders at a strategy session last week, according to a participant.

On the television program, Republicans said the Democrats were in too much of a hurry to push health care legislation through before the Congress leaves for its summer recess in two weeks. "You are bound to do very dumb things when you legislate in such a hasty manner," Mr. Gingrich said. Other Republican lawmakers on hand were Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood and Florida Sen. Connie Mack.

Mr. Packwood said some provisions of Democratic reform proposals would not go into effect until the next century. "If we aren't even going to implement some provisions for eight years, why can't we wait five weeks to vote?" he asked.

Mr. Mack said many of the elderly citizens in his state were concerned about Democratic proposals to cap spending on Medicare: "What they are afraid about is that when you put a cap on how much can be spent, somebody has to give up something."

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