Sen. Lamar Alexander: ‘I don’t see how you can pare back the current bill’

Ezra Klein
Washington Post

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was a co-sponsor of the Wyden-Bennett bill. As recently as July, he said “we should support legislation like the Wyden-Bennett plan I’ve co-sponsored” rather than the health-care legislation before the Senate. So it caught my eye when he began attacking the very idea of comprehensive legislation. We spoke this afternoon about the Wyden-Bennett bill, whether the Senate can pass large pieces of legislation and why Democrats can’t pare their bill back with Republican support…

Let me read this quote back to you. You said, “It is arrogant to imagine that 100 senators are wise enough to reform comprehensively a health-care system that constitutes 17 percent of the world’s largest economy and affects 300 million Americans of disparate backgrounds and circumstances.” Yet you also co-sponsored the Wyden-Bennett health-care plan, which was a much more radical reform than anything the Senate is currently considering.

I made an entire speech on this subject. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Senate doesn’t do comprehensive well. Watching the immigration bill and cap-and-trade and health care all fall beneath their own weight, I’ve come to believe we need to go step by step. On health care, I think that means just doing cost.

Presumably, you still believe Wyden-Bennett is good legislation. It sounds to me like you’re saying that the Senate is simply too broken to take on bills of that magnitude, or even far less.

That’s partly right. I sponsored Wyden-Bennet. In fact, I sponsored it twice. What I was trying to do with Wyden-Bennett was encourage bipartisanship. I wanted a solution that broadened access but used the private market. The central idea in Wyden-Bennett was that you rearrange the tax benefits and instead of dumping more people into public programs, you bring them into private insurance. As a former governor who struggled with Medicaid, I liked the idea of dramatically cutting the number of people on Medicaid rather than putting more people into it. The bill was also simple: 168 pages long or so. I said I had reservations and wouldn’t vote for it in its present form, but I wanted to encourage it.

The interview continues at the Washington Post.

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