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Democrats Fire Back at GOP Pledge to Repeal Health Reform

September 23, 2010 at 6:37 PM EST
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Judy Woodruff gets two perspectives on Republicans' "Pledge to America" plans to repeal health care and cut government spending from House members Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, and Tom Price, a Georgia Republican.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: two different reactions to the Republican plan from two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Georgia Republican Tom Price — he’s chairman of the Republican Study Committee — and Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York.

Gentlemen, thank you both for talking with us.

REP. TOM PRICE (R-Ga.): Thanks, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Price, let me begin with you. One of the main elements in this proposal is to stop what you call out-of-control government spending. Tell us just what a few of the main programs are that you want to see eliminated, and how much money would that save?

REP. TOM PRICE: Well, this — this work product is really the result of listening to the American people.

And what we have heard all across this land is that people believe that Washington is spending too much money and has been for a long period of time through both Democrat and Republican administrations.

We agree. We believe that we ought to be able to get back to pre-bailout and pre-stimulus levels immediately, and then work on decreasing federal spending beyond that from that point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And…

REP. TOM PRICE: The important thing that the American people have said is that you can’t continue to spend more money than you take in. So what this proposal says is that we will get on a path to balanced budget, which we aren’t currently.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what programs, then, would be ended?

REP. TOM PRICE: Well, that’s exactly the process that we go through here in Congress, and hopefully with a president who wants to work productively with a Congress to find those things that are either duplicative, or redundant, or not needed, or ought not be a priority of the federal government.

The fact of the matter is, over the last two fiscal years, we have had — we have been spending $1.4 trillion than we take in. And the American people have said, stop the madness. We have been listening. We hear them. And that’s what we put on paper today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Weiner, that is what many Americans are saying as we get close to these elections.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY): Well, there’s no doubt about it. And I think that Congressman Price and I and others around here do want to eliminate waste in government. But if you read through the documents and you look at the book, for example, they put out last month from their leadership, including the leader of the Budget Committee for them, they want to privatize Social Security, do away with Medicare the way we know it.

They have these bursts of honesty. And that, I think, to their credit, was one of them. We have a philosophical difference here. They believe that one of the ways to save money for the government is to let health insurance companies run wild and do whatever they want.

They believe that, frankly, Medicare and Social Security, these are so-called government programs run amuck. But, for a lot of people, they’re catch — they’re the safety catch that they have in this tough economy.

We’re going to fight tooth and nail to stop the privatization of Social Security. And ask them directly, do they support what Cantor, their whip, what Ryan, the head of their Budget Committee, says they’re going to do?

There’s no doubt about it. Things will be very different if the Republicans take over, but much to the worse for the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Price, what about — I mean, let’s zero in on some of these so-called entitlement programs, like Social Security and Medicare.

REP. TOM PRICE: Sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do Republicans want to do? Because you do hear some of your Republican colleagues talk about moving to a more private system.

REP. TOM PRICE: Well, Judy, as you well know, and as my friend Anthony knows, all of these programs are on a course, a fiscal course, that will not allow them to survive. So they have to be reformed.

And what we believe is that we ought to be working together positively to reform the programs, so that we, in fact, preserve Social Security, preserve Medicare in a way that makes sense for patients, not just for government, but for patients.

As a physician, having practiced for over 20 years, I know that the Medicare system is resulting in some decrease in both quality and access to care for patients right now. And the bill that was passed into law earlier this year will, in fact, further decrease the ability of seniors to gain the kind of access to coverage and care that they desire.

That’s not what we believe ought to be done. We believe we ought to save these programs, reform these programs in a positive way that makes sense for people, not for bureaucrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And can you give us an example of how they should be reformed?

REP. TOM PRICE: Well, sure. The whole — the whole issue in terms of Medicare is whether or not individuals are going to be able to select the physician that they want for themselves, instead of having the government select them for them.

We put a positive alternative on the table. It wasn’t attended to by the other party at all, H.R.-3400, that would get folks covered, that would solve the insurance challenges, that would make sure that clinical decisions, medical decisions are made between patients and families and doctors, and would address the lawsuit abuse issues that weren’t attended to at all in the previous bill.

Those are the kind of positive reforms that we ought to be putting in place. And you will notice, Judy, that none of them require putting the government in charge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Weiner, would that bring the kind of savings that the Republicans say is their priority?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, this is the perfect day to ask that question. One of the things in their new contract on America is that they’re going to repeal the health care bill. Well, it’s funny they say that today. Today is the day that diagnostic services become without co-payments for Americans. They can’t be kicked off their health plan for preexisting conditions.

Seniors started, and a million seniors have already gotten help filling the doughnut hole for prescription drugs. And we extended the life of Medicare for 10 years. They say they want to eliminate all of those things. They say it right there today on the day that a lot of these services go into place.

You know, for a lot of Americans, they don’t believe their Congress should be standing up fighting for the insurance industry. They want them fighting for the American people. And there really are differences here. People may think, well, who really cares who runs Congress?

Let’s look at the facts. They say they’re going to repeal a health care bill that is providing all these additional services. Just yesterday, it came out that seniors on Medicare Advantage are going to actually see rates go down for the first time because of this bill.

They want to repeal that. Why? Because the Republican Party fundamentally is beholden to the insurance industry. The Democratic Party is trying to say we want to try to reel in the worst abuses. So, when you hear them say they want to privatize Social Security, go to a private voucher system for Medicare, repeal the health care bill, you have got to ask yourself, whose side are they on? Because that’s not where the American people are.

REP. TOM PRICE: Judy, it’s a great line, but nobody’s saying that on our side of the aisle. The fact of the matter is, we believe that clinical decisions, if we stick to health care, are — ought to be between patients and families and doctors. And, in fact, that’s not what the bill allows. In fact, what the bill does is cedes the definition of quality — that is, the kind of care that you will be able to receive and every single American will be able to receive — from patients and families and doctors, and moves it to Washington, D.C.

That’s why the American people are so upset with what’s going on, because they see this further encroachment of the federal government into their lives in every single aspect, whether it’s financial, whether it’s health-wise, whether it’s from the jobs that they’re able to get or where they’re able to send their kids to school. And they object and say, stop the madness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask — Congressman Weiner, you were shaking your head — to comment on that, and then come back to Congressman Price…

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, first of all, as a matter of fact, it’s not true. Ask anyone who is over 65 whether, when they visit their doctor, the doctor isn’t able to give them a prescription or tell them what they need. And, by the way, they say that no one’s talking about privatizing Social Security? Mr. McCarthy, who you quoted earlier, Mr. Cantor, and Mr. Ryan wrote a book about that’s their plan. They’re proud of it.

They’re talking about it. And I have to give the Republicans credit on this point. They are finally showing what they want to do with Social Security. If you believe it’s smart to risk Social Security trust fund in the stock market, you probably should vote for the Republicans. But we think it’s a very bad idea.

This is a philosophical question. If you do want to go back to the Bush years, if you do want to go back to those policies, and you do want to go back to health care running out of control, health insurance companies dominating, that same plan that Bush had about privatizing Social Security, this is the party.

The Republicans have something for you. But if you want to keep trying to move forward, not as fast as we would like, if you want to implement things and improve them as we go, that’s what Democrats are arguing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Price, isn’t there some contradiction in what the Republicans are saying here, in that you’re saying you want to repeal the entire Obama health care reform plan, but you — you say you will, in the future, reinstate some aspects of it that right now are already taking effect, like making sure that children are covered who have preexisting conditions, making sure that coverage is extended to children up to the age of 26?

What’s the point of taking these things away, if you’re going to try to put them back in the future?

REP. TOM PRICE: Because — because the program that has been put in place dictates to those 26-year-olds and to those families what kind of health coverage they will have. It defines very specifically what will be in that benefits package, so that it will determine whether or not you can get the wonderful diagnostic tests that Anthony talked about.

But then you have got politicians deciding what tests ought to be done on a patient, not patients and families and doctors. It’s a significant difference. And when you talk to clinicians, when you talk to the people who are truly taking care of patients across this land, what they say is that, yes, we want people covered, absolutely.

We want people covered on the Republican side of the aisle as well. But what we want them to be able to have coverage for is the kind of health care that they desire, not that the government desires for them. When you put the government in charge of defining what quality is in health care and what is available in a benefits package, we have gone down the wrong road, and the American people know it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Weiner, respond to that specific point about whether it’s the government that is making these decision, because that’s the part of the Republican mantra in this program.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: It certainly is. And, like so much of the discussion about health care, it’s simply not true. Perhaps Mr. Price is referring to the fact that, when the new exchange is set up, there are going to be minimum standards for health insurance companies. I don’t think anyone could object to minimum standards.

The diagnostic care that is available — going to be available starting today without co-payment, those are services that doctors are prescribing, mammographies for women that save lives, diagnostic care for blood pressure. For senior citizens, it means getting help with the doughnut hole, the gap in the coverage for prescription drugs. They’re getting that right now.

Look, I understand. There must be a very good talking point polled somewhere saying government getting involved. I ask senior citizens to go to their doctor and ask them, is anyone stopping you from prescribing something for me?

If you’re a family that is struggling, and your child just got out of college and has a low-paying job that can’t get health insurance, today, they’re going to be required to be covered by the insurance companies. And, by the way, if you think the insurance companies are doing those things voluntarily, just by the graces that they have, you have got another think coming.

We don’t trust the insurance companies to do the right thing. We want to make sure that we fight for the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Congressman Price, I have to ask you about the plan…

REP. TOM PRICE: Sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … to keep the Bush tax cuts going. So much of what Republicans say is important to them is to get the deficit down, to get spending down. And, yet, you know there’s an enormous price tag to these tax cuts. How do you reconcile that?

REP. TOM PRICE: Well, we don’t believe that, in a time of economic challenge, we ought to be increasing taxes on any American at all.

And we also believe that, when you keep taxes low and bring taxes low, what you actually do — it’s counterintuitive — is increase the revenue to the federal government. It’s happened every time it’s been done, whether it was under President Kennedy, whether it was under President Reagan, or whether it was under President Bush.

And what this — what the other side refuses to recognize is that the law of economics, if you tax something more, if you punish people by taxes, you will get less of it. And they want to tax the job creators across this great nation. And that decreases the ability of those job creators to be able to create jobs and further depress our economy.

So, what — what we ought to be doing is decreasing taxes on the American people, not increasing taxes. We support decreasing. They support increasing them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Weiner, and this is a point on which Democrats yourselves are divided.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: It certainly is. I think every member of the Democratic Party believes we should give additional tax relief to the middle class, how you define that and whether maybe you let all of the taxes continue.

But I think it’s interesting to note, why is it that the Bush tax cuts are expiring this year? Because it was a gimmick when the Republicans were in charge, to pretend they’re being fiscally responsible, when they’re not.

There’s no doubt about it. You can make a good argument that maybe this is a time to deficit-spend. But this — this — this tax — providing tax relief for billionaires — you heard right — under their plan, a billionaire would get a tax cut — maybe that is a good idea.

I would rather give it to the middle class. I would rather give it to a Social Security COLA that senior citizens should get. There are some differences here. But it’s funny; the Republicans only seem to care about deficits when there’s a Democratic president in charge.

When Bush was here and Mr. Price was here, they ran up deficits like drunken sailors, and I didn’t hear them complain.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, gentlemen, we could…

REP. TOM PRICE: Judy, it’s a — it’s a great line; it just doesn’t work.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: We could go on all night, and we would love to do it, but the clock is ticking. And we hope to talk with both of you again very soon. Congressman Tom Price, Congressman Anthony Weiner, thanks very much.

REP. TOM PRICE: Thank you, Judy.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: No offense to drunken sailors.

(LAUGHTER)