TOPICS > Politics

Despite Long Odds, GOP-Led House Takes Aim at Health Reform Repeal

January 18, 2011 at 3:31 PM EDT
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The GOP-led House of Representatives restarted debate Tuesday over repealing last year's health reform bill, but the measure is not expected to clear the Senate. Betty Ann Bowser reports on the day's developments, and Judy Woodruff gets more from Republican Dan Lungren of California and Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York.

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: The U.S. House took up repeal of the health care reform law today.

NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser begins our coverage.

MAN: Mr. Speaker, I rise to support HR-2, the repeal of last year’s so-called health bill.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: For House Republicans, it marked a moment to make good on a promise that helped fuel their election victories last fall.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-Wis.): We said we would have a straight up-or-down vote to repeal this health care law. And that is precisely what we are doing here today.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: For Democrats on both sides of the Capitol, it was a new opportunity to win public support for the law.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-N.Y.): We welcome, in a certain sense, their attempt to repeal it, because it gives us a second chance to make a first impression.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Since President Obama signed the law last March, several key elements have already taken effect, including popular provisions, like allowing adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26, offering prescription discounts for seniors, and insuring children with preexisting conditions.

On the other hand, a number of states are suing over the mandate for most Americans to get health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a fine.

Debate to repeal the health care law was supposed to take place last week. But after Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was wounded in Tucson, the Republican leadership postponed it until today. And, as the debate got under way, both sides of the aisle were paying particular attention to tone.

The two sides also mounted full-blown public relations campaigns to get their messages across, with dueling press conferences, blog posts, interviews, hearings, and even full-page ads.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R-S.C.): I’m a signature on this repeal it now document, because as citizen Jeff Duncan, I signed that I did not want Obamacare. As now as Congressman Jeff Duncan, I look forward to working with the guys behind me, following their leadership, repealing this very unconstitutional piece of legislation, and replacing it with something that is better. We’re going to work on that together.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Republicans said the law is too costly. And they warned, 650,000 jobs will be lost if it’s allowed to stand. They cited a letter written by 200 economists, who argued the health care law is a threat to U.S. businesses and will place a crushing debt burden on future generations of Americans.

REP. STEVE PEARCE (R-N.M.): What the health care bill does is create such uncertainty, both in taxation and in regulation, that the job market is frozen shut right now. It is with baby boomers moving to retirement, aging, the — the medical field should be exploding with jobs right now. But, instead, they’re not being created because of the uncertainty created by this bill.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats firmly believe just the opposite, that health care reform helps the economy.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.), House minority leader: Our first responsibility here, as we say over and over again, is to create jobs. And we are ready and willing to work with the Republicans to achieve this goal. We believe that health care reform does just that.

Democrats have made a firm commitment that we will judge every proposal that comes before us as to whether it creates jobs, strengthens the middle class, and reduces the deficit. The repeal of the patients’ rights fails on all three counts.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Democrats also used a report by the Department of Health and Human Services. It found as many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have preexisting conditions and could be rejected for coverage if the law is repealed. Insurance companies said the numbers were exaggerated.

But, at the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the country won’t accept that risk.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: The notion that there is some vast, widespread support for doing away with the Affordable Care Act, raising the deficit, putting insurance companies back in charge, there are a whole host of things that even Republicans don’t find suitable or tenable about the effort.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In fact, the American public has been divided on the new law since its enactment. And new polls captured the conflicting attitudes.

A survey by a Quinnipiac University found 48 percent favor repeal, while 43 percent oppose it, in keeping with previous findings. A separate poll released by the Associated Press found the level of strong opposition to the law at 30 percent. That’s near the lowest it’s been since September of 2009.

A final vote in the House is expected Wednesday evening. But Democrats promise they will block repeal in the Senate, where they still hold the majority.

JIM LEHRER: And to Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And joining us now from Capitol Hill for more on the health care repeal effort are California Republican Dan Lungren and New York Democrat Anthony Weiner.

Congressmen, thank you both for being with us.

REP. DAN LUNGREN (R-Calif.): Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Lungren, to you first.

Let’s explore further this jobs argument that the Republicans making. The title is legislation is the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law. And your Republican colleagues are arguing it would — it’s going to destroy or has — is destroying 650,000 jobs.

What is the evidence of that?

REP. DAN LUNGREN: Well, first of all, there’s not a single economist that believes that raising taxes in the midst of this economic downturn, even though some call it a recovery, makes much sense and adds to job recovery.

Secondly, you have already seen that HHS is looking at 200 different major companies who have asked for waivers, saying that they cannot go forward with what’s imposed on them under this bill, lest they lose jobs. Now, that’s over 200 already. And HHS is already talking about extending a number of those waivers.

If in fact it doesn’t have the effect of killing jobs, those waivers wouldn’t be requested, and, in fact, we wouldn’t have the secretary suggesting that they be done.

It makes no sense to allow the federal government to have that ability to say, yes, you have this obligation, but, no, you do not, because, in the one case, you have convinced us it is going to kill jobs; in the other case, we — you haven’t proven that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s ask Representative Weiner.

What about that?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-N.Y.): Well, I can tell you what helps to create jobs. And that is, in the bill, there’s already a tax subsidy, 30 percent for small businesses to provide insurance for their workers.

I can tell you that it crushes jobs, not doing anything about this problem. We pay — about 20 percent of every single thing that we create in this country, there’s an added tax on it because that’s the cost of health care. Canada doesn’t have it. China doesn’t have it. Our competitors don’t have it.

Yet, we have that added cost. And there’s one other thing that is being left out of this argument. The idea that, if you don’t cover people for insurance, somehow, they don’t have health care challenges, they still do. They just go into hospital emergency rooms and pass along the costs to taxpayers in California and taxpayers in New York.

That’s why there’s the drag on the economy. Not solving this problem is not the solution. But you really shouldn’t expect anything different from the new Republican Congress. They campaigned on eliminating this thing, but they didn’t campaign on what they’re in favor of, which is the big question for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just quickly, Representative Weiner, on this question of cost, the Republicans are — are saying there’s a bill, essentially, coming due — $2.5 trillion dollars they say this is going to cost over next couple of decades. They’re saying the Democrats sold the Congressional Budget Office a bill of goods, that the numbers you’re citing — they’re citing are not accurate.

How can there even be agreement on — on what this is going to cost the American people?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, the Congressional Budget Office is our referee around here. I know the Republicans don’t like the answer they gave, because it says that this, killing — eliminating this bill would cost taxpayers 200-some-odd-billion dollars over 10 years and $1.3 trillion over 20.

But let me explain to your viewers why repealing this bill costs money. It’s because right now what we have set up is that the uninsured are going to get subsidies to buy insurance. Therefore, they’re not going to be along — passing along the bills to all of us that have insurance and passing it along to the taxpayers.

It’s much less expensive to have them get insurance than it is to keep paying their bills in emergency rooms.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Lungren?

REP. DAN LUNGREN: Yes, if I could respond to that, on the one case, you’re talking about a half-a-trillion dollars in additional new taxes that otherwise wouldn’t go into effect. You’re talking about a half-a-trillion dollars in cuts in Medicare, and not to solve the problem with Medicare, but to create new programs.

A lot of that is going to be on the backs of those senior citizens who currently have Medicare Advantage. I happen to have one of the highest percentage of senior citizens in the country on Medicare Advantage. It’s something they want. It’s something they have voluntarily decided that they would enter into.

And their health care is the better for it. We are eliminating all of those things. There’s a double counting of the savings that is included in the suggestion that is made by my colleague from New York. So, the costs are enormous here. And the costs are not effective.

The idea that Republicans are not campaigning or didn’t campaign on alternatives to the health care bill as it came out from the Democrats is absolutely ludicrous. We had 80 — eight-zero — 80 amendments offered before the Rules Committee to have alternatives considered when we had it brought up last year.

The Democratically controlled Rules Committee allowed us zero. That’s why they’re able to say there were no Republicans alternatives on the floor. They didn’t allow us to have the alternatives. We will present alternatives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Representative Weiner, we know that Republicans are going to come — just very quickly, they’re going to come behind this with smaller efforts to make some changes. The Democrats are going to go along with them, in one part of that, a tax change that has to do with, what is it, $600 worth of transactions.

Are there any other specific things that you think the two parties can agree on when it comes to health care?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, perhaps.

If our attitude about this is where the American people are, which is implement it and improve it as we need — look, the Medicare program is much different than it was when it was first envisioned. Social Security is same. I anticipate there will be things we will have to do to fine-tune.

I can tell you what the Republicans are going to come forward with: Oh, you should cover people that have preexisting conditions. That’s the law today. You should cover people that — seniors that have prescription drug costs. That’s the law today. You should provide tax incentive for small businesses to get health insurance. That’s the law today.

The great unspoken truth here with my Republican friends is, they are trying to argue that this whole thing should be thrown out, but they kind of like the provisions in it, because most Americans do as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Representative Lungren, can you tell us now a few pieces of this that you want to see survive?

REP. DAN LUNGREN: Well, Judy, I find it tough enough to talk about what I believe and what my Republicans colleagues do. Evidently, my opponent over here has no problem talking about what he thinks Republicans stand for.

Look, we want patient-centered health care. We want to make sure that the bureaucracy is not involved in this process. We have talked about preexisting conditions. In fact, we came forward with a much more vigorous program for having those pooled programs around the country for people with preexisting conditions.

We ought to build on that. That legislation started a number of years ago. We ought to continue with that. We want to make sure that there are incentives for small businesses to be able to have alternatives to the traditional insurance policies that are available to them now to give some greater competition.

We also want to enable people to buy or purchase health care policies across state lines, which will add to the competition and give people far more opportunities to decide what is best for their unique situations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, I want to conclude by asking you both — we were told the rhetoric was going to be cooled in the aftermath of what happened in — in Tucson, Arizona, last week.

Do you feel, Representative Weiner, that — that the — the language, the rhetoric of this debate is cooler than what it would have otherwise been?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, I certainly do.

In fact, in a minor, but I think important, thing, they changed the name of the bill to the job-crushing, rather than job-killing, bill. I think little things like that do help.

But it shouldn’t change the idea that a lot of the disagreements we have are philosophical in nature. The parties differ on these things. Mr. Lungren and I are friends. We just differ — differ philosophically. He believes that people who are uninsured should go into hospital emergency rooms, and we should all pay the bill. I believe providing health care for all Americans is something that benefits our economy.

But, by — by all means, I think that one of the lessons that we should take away, both from the president’s speech and the lesson that we learn is — is that we should turn down the volume somewhat. But having disagreement is what this country — this country was based on. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Representative Lungren, do you feel the language is — is — has come down a notch, a — a decibel level or two?

(LAUGHTER)

REP. DAN LUNGREN: Well, I hope so, Judy, although, again, I would like to be able to speak for myself, rather than have my colleague here tell you what I think.

Look, I grew up in a doctor’s family. My dad was my hero. My dad still is my hero, even though he’s been gone for 10 years. I saw what patient-centered relationships with doctors were all about. And that’s what — that’s what drives me in all of this.

How do you make sure that that special bond between doctor and patient is there? I remember my dad treating people and getting not a penny for it. And he did that gladly.

I would hope that we would get down to this debate about what is best for the average American who needs health care, who needs to see a doctor, rather than some of this other kind of rhetoric that we seem to dwell so much on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, we hear you both loud and clear.

REP. DAN LUNGREN: Thank you.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: And Dan has got the last word, a new sign of civility.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Weiner, Representative Lungren, we — gentlemen, thank you both.

REP. DAN LUNGREN: Thanks, Judy.