Washington (CNN) – The Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday that the Senate should set aside the impending debate on the health care reform bill and, instead, use the remainder of the year to focus on the appropriate strategy for the Afghanistan war, funding the war, and passing the appropriations bill necessary to keep the federal government running.
“I would just make this suggestion,” Republican Sen. Richard Lugar said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, “that in the three weeks of debate we still have ahead of us, we really ought to concentrate in the 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 appropriations bills in a proper way. . . . We may wish to discuss higher taxes to pay for [the war]. But we're not going to do that debating health care in the Senate for three weeks through all sorts of strategies and so forth.”
“The war is terribly important,” Lugar continued, “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 [aside] and talk now about the essentials: the war and money.”
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, disagreed with Lugar.
“Absolutely not,” Reed replied when asked by CNN Chief National Correspondent John King whether the Senate put off debate on the health care reform bill until 2010.
“I think we're in the midst of probably the most significant debate and conclusion with legislation that we've ever had,” Reed told King, “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 has become unaffordable. We have to go ahead and conclude this debate.
“To stop now would be stopping on the edge of, I think, significant reform, which is so important for the country. And frankly, it's ironic, there’s - 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. I think the president's speech [Tuesday about Afghanistan] will be appropriate. I think the strategy we'll analyze in the committees and I think we can go forward on both fronts and we have to.”
After months of deliberation, Obama is set to give a speech Tuesday evening that outlines his plans for the war in Afghanistan. Also this week, the full Senate is set to begin debate on a health care reform bill crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who managed to garner just enough votes to get the bill to the floor.