One of President Barack Obama's closest Republican allies in the Senate urged him to put health care reform on the backburner and focus on Afghanistan.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), a trusted GOP voice on foreign policy matters, told CNN's "State of the Union" that in light of a forthcoming increase in troops to Afghanistan, Democrats should turn their attention to matters of war and money.
"[W]e're not going to do that debating health care and the Senate for three weeks through all sorts of strategies and so forth," said the Indiana Republican. "The war is terribly important. Jobs and our economy are terribly important. So this may be an audacious suggestion, but I would suggest we put aside the health care debate until next year, the same way we put cap and trade and climate change and talk now about the essentials, the war and money."
The remark seemed to fit in well with an overarching Republican strategy of delaying health care reform talks. And Lugar received immediate pushback from his co-panelist, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
"Absolutely not," said the Rhode Island Democrat. "I think we're in the midst of probably the most significant debate and conclusion with legislation that we've ever had. And the health care debate is essential to our economic future. There are businesses and individuals each year pay more and more for health care, it's become unaffordable. We have to go ahead and conclude this debate. To stop now would be stopping on the edge, I think, of significant reform, which is so important for the country. And frankly, I think, it's ironic. Under the Bush administration, there was no serious debate about Afghanistan. That was relegated to the sidelines. There was no attempt to pay for it. And suddenly, now, that becomes a critical need that we put aside health care. I don't think so. I think we have to push forward."
The two panelists did find some common ground on the question of whether the escalation of war in Afghanistan needed to be fully and properly funded. Both suggested that raising taxes on the American public should, at the very least, be considered.
"I believe there will be a separate accounting," Lugar said. "I think we will have to pay for it. I would just make this suggestion: that in the three weeks of debate we still have ahead of us, we really ought to concentrate in Congress on the war, on the overall strategy of our country and the cost of it. And we ought to be on the budget, passing appropriation bills in a proper way. In the course of that, we may wish to break out that. We may wish to discuss higher taxes to pay for it."