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Boehner Says GOP Support Unlikely for Baucus Health Plan

September 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In an interview with Jeffrey Brown, House Minority Leader John Boehner describes the prospects for GOP support of the president's health reform push and describes what he sees as a "modern-day political rebellion in America" over the expanding role of government.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our Newsmaker interview with the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner. Jeffrey Brown spoke with him a short while ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: Congressman Boehner, welcome to you.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader: Glad to be here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yesterday, Senator Baucus came out with a long-awaited plan that had no public option, a much lower price tag than previous plans, pays for itself, according to the Congressional Budget Office, seemed to incorporate things that Republicans had talked about wanting, and yet got no Republican support. Why not?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, there clearly are some things in there that Republicans do support. But when you step back and look at this, it still has a big government takeover of our health care system, whether it’s the co-ops, whether it’s the mandates on individuals, the mandates on companies, the unfunded mandates on states, and still costs some $800 billion of money that we don’t have.

And so a step in the right direction, but Democrats and Republicans understand that we do have the best health care system in the world. It’s not perfect. And we can fix the problems in the current system without throwing the whole system away and starting over with this government takeover, because at the end of the day that’s what it is.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I want you to explain what you mean by government takeover, because wouldn’t it still be the case that most people would be working through the private sector, the private insurers, that much of these things would be still voluntary for people to move into, that the majority of people would still go through their employers’ plans?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, that’s not what’s going to happen. If you look at these bills, there’s a requirement that after five years every employer-provided health plan has to be approved by the Department of Labor and the health choices czar.

Now, what that means is that the federal government’s going to design what employers are allowed to offer to their employees, regardless of what the employees want. And if employers don’t do this, there’s an 8 percent payroll tax.

And what this is going to do is drive many employers out of the business of providing health insurance to their employees, and they’re going to be forced into these health exchanges that are going to be run by the government.

After five years, you can’t go out and buy a health care policy without going to one of the government exchanges. And this is — when you begin to look at the infrastructure that’s being built here, you can begin to see that there’s all of this government involvement in the delivery of health insurance and health care in America, and it’s something that the American people are soundly rejecting.

They believe that, yes, we’ve got problems in our current system. Why don’t you find a way to reduce the cost to me as an American? And why don’t we find ways of providing affordable health insurance to Americans who don’t have good access today?

State of Republican opposition

Rep. John Boehner
House Minority Leader
I don't believe that any of these health plans that we've seen thus far from the Democrats in Congress can pass in any way, shape, or form.

JEFFREY BROWN: But just to be clear where we are today, is there something here to work with or is it 100 percent opposition? I saw the president yesterday -- the president's spokesman called this an important building block. Karen Ignagni, representing insurance groups, a regular guest on this program, said it was a very important step. Players seem to at least be still at the table. So where are we?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They're at the table, but I don't think, from what I can see, that it's going to garner any Republican support. There's just way too much government involvement here. We don't need all this government involvement to make our current system work better.

And at the end of the day, that's the big difference. Do we want to work with our current system and try to improve it? Or do we want to replace that system with a federal government and all of their plans for what health care ought to look like in the future? And the American people are saying, "We're not going there."

JEFFREY BROWN: You've talked about -- you've used the word "reset," start over. Now, would that perhaps just delay action? Or is there any reason to think that "reset" would not start another kind of divided debate here?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I don't believe that any of these health plans that we've seen thus far from the Democrats in Congress can pass in any way, shape, or form.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER: And I do believe that the president at some point is going to have to hit the reset button and just say, "All right, we're going to stop, and we're going to start over, and we're going to start over and start at the beginning in a bipartisan way."

I've done a lot of major pieces of legislation in my legislative career, and all of them that became law started together in a bipartisan way. And I think the only way we get there on health care is to sit down, map out the problems that we can address, that we can agree on, and begin to move in that direction.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think it is possible -- is there a Republican alternative or an alternative out there to cover more people, to expand the coverage, but also keep the costs under control?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: There is. You can go to, and you can see a number of Republican proposals that are out there.

JEFFREY BROWN: With price tags on them already?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They've got -- some have got price tags. Some don't. But they lay out the kind of commonsense changes we can make to make our current system work better.

Let's drive down the cost by fixing medical malpractice problems that we have. Not only does it cost doctors an awful lot of money for this insurance, but the defensive medicine they practice, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, would save us about $125 billion a year.

Why not do it? Why not require Medicare, Medicaid, and every insurance company to agree on one set of claim forms, one? It would save $40 billion to $50 billion a year in our current health care system, money that we could use to actually help those who don't have good access today.

The tone of the debate

Rep. John Boehner
House Minority Leader
At the end of the day, we ought to be encouraging Americans to involve themselves in this debate, but they ought to do it in a civil tone.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me turn to the rancor, anger, discourse that has been going on over the past few weeks. It's been quite a few weeks, of course, all kinds of opposition, but some of it loud, some of it angry, some of it nasty. We had the incident with Joe Wilson, your House colleague, calling the president a liar. We had President Carter yesterday raising the issue of racism and the role that might be playing in the opposition to the president.

How concerned are you about the level of discourse, not the fact of opposition, but the course that it's taking?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, we want Americans to be involved in this debate, and this debate that I've watched go on around the country, it's not just health care. It's an $800 billion stimulus that was supposed to be about creating jobs, and yet 2.5 million Americans have lost their jobs since. It's trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see.

It's a government takeover of our auto companies. It's a cap-and-trade proposal that came through the House that we now find out from the Treasury Department would cost each American family over $1,700 per year.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, excuse me, with...

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: And on top of that, you've got this health care proposal. And the American people are -- they're scared. And what they're saying is, wait a minute, this is not -- where we're going, my kids and grandkids are going to grow up in a different country than I grew up in, because they see government getting larger, more in debt, more control of our society, and most Americans understand that the bigger government gets, the less opportunity there is for the American people.

JEFFREY BROWN: But some of that fear is raising concerns about the forms that it's taking. Just today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went so far as to worry aloud about violence. She was recalling the past, 1970s in San Francisco. We have a clip here; I'd like to play it for you.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., Speaker of the House: I have concerns about some of the language that is being used, because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening. And it created a climate in which violence took place. And so I wish that we would all again curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made.

JEFFREY BROWN: What's your reaction to what she says?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I have no doubt that the speaker is sincere in her concern. We want Americans to be involved in these debates. We want them involved in our democracy. We would hope their involvement would be civil, because these are important issues. And when people get too loud, they get too hateful, you can't have much of a conversation.

And at the end of the day, we ought to be encouraging Americans to involve themselves in this debate, but they ought to do it in a civil tone.

'A modern-day political rebellion'

Rep. John Boehner
House Minority Leader
I've never seen anything like this. I've been around the country in a number of members' districts, and I've been watching this grassfire grow all year.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right. But as the leader of your party, as one of the leaders, how do you see your own role or responsibility in, for example, perhaps disassociating yourself from extremes or tamping down some of that rhetoric? What's your role?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think -- you've heard me over the last several months make it clear that we want Americans to involve themselves in this discussion, but it ought to be civil. And, by and large, almost all of it is. Oh, there's going to be someone now and then who's going to get out of control or yell, but we are in the middle of a modern-day political rebellion in America.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Rebellion. I've never seen anything like this. I've been around the country in a number of members' districts, and I've been watching this grassfire grow all year.

And the American people, they're concerned about what their government is doing. They know that these trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see, this is not sustainable. And they're concerned that government here in Washington is getting too big, getting too much control, and they're making their opposition to it known. And all of my colleagues have encountered their citizens more engaged than they've ever seen them.

Now, I went to a tea party in West Chester, Ohio, on September 5th, Labor Day weekend, along with some of my colleagues; 18,000 people were there. And there were some Democrats there and some Republicans there. But three-fourths of the people there were people -- average Americans who'd never been engaged in the political process, really didn't know much about it, except that they were concerned about where our country was going.

And so this conversation that's underway is healthy for our democracy. It was Thomas Jefferson 220 years ago who said, "A little rebellion now and then is good for our democracy."

JEFFREY BROWN: Right, but "rebellion" is a charged word, of course, because the rebellion back then was a serious matter.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: It was. But having Americans engaged in this public debate is healthy. And I would hope that it would continue, but continue in a civil way.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. House Minority Leader John Boehner, thank you very much.