In his 23 years in Congress, "there has never been a piece of legislation that will take more of our freedom than this health care bill," Republican Sen. Jon Kyl told a Tucson Tea Party gathering of hundreds Wednesday at an Oro Valley church.
"I believe this to my core," Kyl told the group.
The legislation would add debt, raise taxes, raise insurance premiums and cut Medicare benefits, he said. The proposal does cover more people with insurance, but "at a cost that is not sustainable."
"All those things are bad," Kyl said. "The worst thing it will do is diminish the quality of health care, and put government between you and your doctor."
He criticized the Democrats for closed-door negotiations over the House and Senate versions of the bill. Democrats want to pass health care reform "in the worst way … and they will pass it in the worst way." If a negotiated agreement gets 60 votes in the Senate, "that's the end of it.
"Is everything lost?" Kyl asked. "Not necessarily." Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd believes the bill is "hanging by a thread. That's music to my ears," Kyl said.
"What I'm hoping is they'll figure out they can't do it, and come back to the Republicans" to negotiate. "There are a lot of problems with health care," Kyl said. "Let's figure out what the pieces are and try to solve them."
Twice Wednesday night, and a third time in an interview Wednesday afternoon, Kyl reiterated his hope that Arizona Democrats in Congress who voted for the bill this fall will "reassess their positions, listen to their constituents rather than their leadership, and vote against it this time. Public opinion has swelled against the bill."
Democrats "could get a lot of what they want, if they are willing to sit and talk," Kyl said. "You do have to do some trade-offs."
In an interview Wednesday, Kyl said most people agree on two goals; first, to reduce the cost of insurance for people, and second, to provide insurance coverage for people who don't have it. That would include people who are denied insurance coverage, or must wait for coverage to take effect, because of pre-existing health conditions.
Republicans are "focusing on these particular problems, rather than trying to redo the whole system," Kyl said. "Let's take these problems one at a time.
"The left has a larger goal, to have government deeply involved in the delivery of health care," Kyl said. Those people believe "government can do a better job than the private sector."
Kyl wants something done to reform the malpractice insurance environment, a move he says could save $47 billion. Lack of tort reform, expensive malpractice insurance premiums, defensive medicine and a "jackpot justice system ends up costing us billions of dollars," Kyl said.
"The first objective is to get premiums down," he said. Yet the Democrats' bill does not address malpractice reform. He suggested the Democrats "didn't want to take on the trial lawyers … and do something good. I apologize for being this partisan about this point."
One man suggested the gloves come off, and that Obama be impeached. Kyl, who sat through the Clinton impeachment and eventual acquittal, said "to impeach a president, you've got to have a pretty strong case. The House of Representatives is not going to impeach Barack Obama for proposing this health care bill. They're going to vote for it.
"The answer is not to indict him, but to defeat him," Kyl said. On several occasions, he noted, "elections have consequences."
He was asked if the health care bill contains constitutional violations. "Constitutional challenges are available, and there are good cases to be made, on three or four parts of the bill," he believes. "But I don't think we can count on lawsuits to bail us out on that.
"Don't get the idea there are remedies in the court," Kyl said. "If it passes, folks, we've got a big problem." And, if it passes, repeal is unlikely "as long as Obama is president," he said. "It would be very, very hard to do that."
"I can understand 2,000 pages of a bill being loaded with this kind of thing," a man said. "Why do I believe what you say? Because I trust you. You have shown you are fighting for us."
"You are the strongest voice out there that we have right now," said another.
During his years in Congress, Kyl has seen several heated issues. In terms of public debate and passion, health care reform has sparked "more, over a longer bit of time, and every bit as intense as the immigration issue."