John McCain: Passing Health Care Bill Through Reconciliation Would Have 'Cataclysmic Effects'

Former GOP presidential candidate optimistic about future negotiations.

ByHUMA KHAN via via logo
February 26, 2010, 7:26 AM

Feb. 26, 2010— -- President Obama's health care summit was a good opportunity for Americans to consider the contentious issue, but passing a Senate bill with 51 votes in what's called budget reconciliation would have "cataclysmic effects," Arizona Sen. John McCain said.

"Here they are with a program that's another $2.5 trillion cost to the taxpayers," the former GOP presidential candidate told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos today. "We are ready to work on a number of issues with the president but we want to do it step by step."

"We don't want the budget gimmickry that gives you six years of benefits for 10 years in taxes. I mean, that's crazy. That's Bernie Madoff accounting," he said.

Obama's bill, released Monday, is estimated by the White House to cost $1 trillion over 10 years, but Republicans say that number is a lowball and that costs over time will be considerably higher.

The White House is proposing "fixes" to the Senate health care bill, passed on Christmas Eve. If the House passes that bill with the proposed fixes, only a simple majority will be needed in the Senate to send it over to Obama's desk.

Democratic senators argue that procedure has been followed multiple times before by Republicans, including for President Bush's tax cuts, but McCain said it should not be used for such a large bill.

"It's not been used for one-sixth of the gross national product," McCain told Stephanopoulos. "We want to negotiate, and we want to try to get something done, but the majority of American people say start over or don't do anything."

After nearly 7½ hours of discussions, and more than 60,000 words of debate Thursday, it remained clear that Democrats and Republicans won't be joining hands to pass the health care bill as it currently stands. There were moments of agreement on cutting down on fraud and the broad consensus that lawmakers need to do something to cut health care costs, but both sides acknowledged there were stark political and philosophical differences.

Nevertheless, McCain expressed hope that bipartisan negotiations could be achieved.

"I hope we will. There are areas that we can agree on," he said. "I think it was good to have that conversation. I think it was good for the American people. ... I think it helps the American people make a judgment. I'd be glad to go over again, not soon," he said, laughing.

There was one tense exchange between McCain and Obama when the longtime senator criticized Obama's bill and his promise to televise health care discussions on C-SPAN, one which he did not keep.

"Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election's over," the president countered.

"I am reminded of that every day," McCain said with a smile.

McCain today said he brought up the subject because of the closed-door meetings.

"The reason why I brought it up yesterday was not because of the campaign, but because the American people don't like these unsavory deals," he said.

John McCain Optimistic About Bipartisan Deal on Health Care

The president made it clear to Republicans that he would not scrap the health care bill, as the GOP leadership has been asking, and start fresh. At the same time, he also pleaded with them to find common ground.

"I'd like the Republicans to do a little soul-searching and find out are there some things that you'd be willing to embrace that get to this core problem of 30 million people without health insurance and dealing seriously with the pre-existing condition issue," Obama said.

The president's argument is that to prohibit insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, it is essential to make insurance mandatory for everyone so that people do not abuse the system.

McCain argued that Republicans do want to deal with the issue. He has proposed that risk pools be established for those who have pre-existing conditions, and have insurance companies compete for their coverage.

"I hope that they would start over," McCain said. "We're not saying we want another year of debate. What we're saying is let's start out on these areas we agree on ... and go step by step."

"American people are overwhelmingly against what they are trying to do," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the meeting "took us a step closer to passing," but it remains to be seen whether she can garner enough Democratic support in the House to pass the Senate health care bill with the changes proposed by the White House.

Many House Democrats don't want to pass the bill at all if it doesn't include a public option. Some want more stringent regulations on federal funding for abortion than what was in the White House bill.

ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

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