Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009 | 12:51 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Perhaps a time-out for etiquette could be helpful in the health care debate, which opened this week with incendiary remarks and wild claims in a discussion that has already seen plenty of both.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired off the first flinty round when he compared opponents of health care reform to those who fought the end of slavery.
“Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: Slow down. Stop everything. Let's start over,” Reid said.
“If you think you have heard these same excuses before, you are right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said: Slow down. It is too early. Let's wait. Things aren't bad enough.”
The Republican side of the aisle, which would include those Reid was talking about, was offended. The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, suggested Reid cracked under pressure.
“To suggest that passing this horrible bill is anything akin to ridding our country of slavery is terribly offensive and calls into question Mr. Reid’s suitability to lead,” Steele said. “Having made this disgraceful statement on the floor of the United States Senate, Mr. Reid should immediately apologize.”
Not only did Reid not apologize, but his spokesman called the criticism from Republicans “feigned outrage.” Reid’s speech offered a comparative sweep of past legislative milestones – slavery’s end, women’s suffrage, Civil Rights.
On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats felt compelled to respond to the latest wild rumor about health care reform: Forced government microchip implants.
That’s right – an e-mail circulating about health care reform and posted on some web sites is claiming that those who sign up for the proposed public option would be required to have microchips implanted as part of the government program.
And you thought the debunked death panels were a doozey.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebutted by citing PolitiFact, which recently added microchips to the “list of silly discredited claims about the health bill.” PoitiFact said the health care legislation would create a proposed national registry of medical devices – for example, pacemakers or artificial limbs. The database would keep track of the devices already in use, and could be accessed by experts and the public to analyze effectiveness.
The part about requiring microchip implants for those in the public plan, PolitiFact wrote, “is fiction, pure and simple.”
All this went down before the close of business on Monday.
We have been here before in the health care debate. Remember the acrimonious town-hall meetings in August or more recently the health care protesters at a Republican rally on the Hill with a poster comparing health care reform to a concentration camp?
Perhaps the long weekend Senate session caused the week to begin with decorum left at the door. Maybe it was the thought of another weekend ahead spent under the dome.
But if this keeps up, it will be a testy haul until the end of the health care debate.