Politico: Alexander's plan to think small

Posted on January 27, 2010

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, No. 3 in Senate GOP leadership, believes he’s got a counterattack to President Barack Obama’s big-bang approach to legislating: Think small.

Alexander is advising his colleagues to embrace what he calls a “step-by-step” approach to solving the nation’s problems on health care, climate change, financial regulatory reform – all issues where Democrats have proposed comprehensive solutions. And he says his approach will mark a clear distinction between the two parties as they appeal to voters ahead of the 2010 midterm elections.

“The difference in approach between step-by-step and comprehensive, I believe, is a second big difference between the Republican and Democratic approach that will emerge during this year,” Alexander told reporters Tuesday. “We basically believe the law of unintended consequences make big, risky policy schemes unmanageable.”

When Republicans were in charge, they advanced sprawling pieces of legislation, including the 2005 comprehensive energy bill. But Republicans now are seizing on this line of attack as public distrust of Washington grows and as support for the sprawling health care plan drops.

Alexander cited a poll by OnMessage Inc. that said 56 percent of voters preferred a step-by-step approach for dealing with health care. But he said his strategy is not driven by the polls. He said “this has been emerging” concern among Republicans after the immigration bill, health care bill and climate change bill “fell on their weight.”

Democrats say that comprehensive solutions are often necessary because smaller steps can create other problems unless there’s a broad policy in place. On health care, for instance, Democrats say that if they were only to enact insurance reforms, costs of premiums would increase. Alexander conceded the point, but said that Congress should first move to reduce health care costs.

And Democrats argue that it’s politically easier for the GOP to argue for bite-size proposals that the Republicans have long embraced because they don’t have to get broad buy-in from their members, which requires deal-making and compromises.

Still, Alexander says big is bad.

“I think we’ve conclusively proved that the United States Senate does not do comprehensive well,” Alexander said.