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Health debate: Republicans offer career advice to Dems

So, it looks like President Obama and the Democrats in congress might finally make a run at passing healthcare reform legislation.

Obama today urged congress to arrange an "up or down vote" on the measure (by which he means the congressional tactic called "reconciliation", which requires a simple majority). He wants a bill passed within weeks, that is, before the Easter recess. Many believe that if this timetable cannot be met, the bill will die.

The Republicans' most prominent criticisms of the push to get legislation through are quite lame. There are lots of good reasons to criticize the likely reform package - not least, for the fact that it does not address the main problem: the high cost for not-so-great care. But the Republicans seem to prefer to use the opportunity to provide career counselling to the Democrats. Their main line is: don't do it Democrats, or else you'll lose your job. House Republican whip, Eric Cantor, said on NBC's "Meet the Press": "I'll tell you one thing: If Speaker Pelosi rams this bill through the House using a reconciliation process, they will lose their majority in Congress in November." Republican Senator Lamar Alexander had a similar message, saying "It would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through."

The only thing this argument does is make the Democrats look principled. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded: "Why are we here? We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in congress." Representative John Adler (D, NJ), sounded a similar note: "I think people shouldn''t be worried about their careers. They should be worried about doing what's right."

Other Republican arguments are also weak. One is that the polls show a majority are against the reform proposal. But, first of all, as an interesting New York Times piece on the weekend pointed out, a poll response often depends on how the question is posed. And moreover, the Republicans' line makes it sound like they believe that it is the job of politicians to be purely poll-driven. Another argument - utilized by the Wall Street Journal's lead editorial today - is that reconciliation is an "abuse of power". But as the Financial Times notes today, "reconciliation has been used more than twenty times since 1980, the majority by Republican congresses."

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