JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight: Another conversation with a Democratic presidential candidate about health care. Margaret Warner has tonight's.
MARGARET WARNER: The Reverend Al Sharpton has not issued a detailed health-care proposal in this campaign, but he has endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing all Americans the right to "health care of equal high quality." The amendment was introduced in the house in March by Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., of Illinois. And the Reverend Sharpton joins us now from New York. Welcome, Reverend.
AL SHARPTON: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Is this the key element of your approach to health care, your support for this amendment?
AL SHARPTON: Absolutely. The basic premise of the Sharpton presidential campaign, when it deals with health care, starts with the support of this amendment because, firstly, if we can make every American have the constitutional right to high-quality health care, then the programs that fund it starts on the basis that we guarantee Americans that right. For example, a couple of years ago, when veterans discovered that the administration was backing up on the longstanding but unwritten commitment that people that served in the armed forces would have lifetime health care, they couldn't argue from a legal premise because there was no constitutional right. There was no legal premise to fight from. I think that it is very important that we establish the legal premise and the programs emanate from that foundation.
MARGARET WARNER: The word in the amendment doesn't have any specifics, really, as you know, other than to say Congress shall have the power to implement this article by appropriate legislation. What kind of system do you envision?
AL SHARPTON: I envision, the Sharpton health plan would envision that the federal government would guarantee health care, and that the federal government would have a national health plan that would in many ways eliminate the kinds of structures that we have now that go state to state. I'd have a national plan, a single-payer plan. But there could be those that disagree with that, but still disagree with the amendment. As you say, there are two parts to the amendment. The first part says we have the right; the second part that the Congress would legislate based on that right. Now, we may differ. My second part would be a federal oversight, federal ensuring all American single- payer plan, where providers and where those that are citizens could depend on one plan, pay into one plan and it not be broken down into state-by-state regulation. But that has nothing to do with trying to unite all Americans on the first part, which is an amendment guaranteeing health care for everyone. But my particular program would be to have a single-payer plan, a national health insurance plan that the federal government would operate and guarantee all American citizens high-quality health care.
MARGARET WARNER: What is your estimate about what a national government-run single-payer plan, universal health-care plan, would cost?
AL SHARPTON: Well, it wouldn't cost much different than what we are doing now. I think that when you look at the plan that we have now, if I were president, I would take down certain cost factors. For example, some studies say as much as 20 percent of the present health-care budget deals in medical advertising, a large percentage in administrative overruns, buildings, and other things. I think that you could bring that down to a minimal budget. And we're going to be releasing a detailed number plan on this when I addressed the medical association later in July. But when you look at the general numbers, I think that when you have a national health-care plan regulated by government advertising and building administrative costs and other things become mostly unnecessary and brings down to minimal costs, which can bring a lot more of that money into actually serving the health-care needs of Americans.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, many of your Democratic opponents, the other Democratic candidates who are espousing various proposals, are calling for rolling back the Bush tax cuts to fund them at least partly. Are you saying you don't think that would be necessary?
AL SHARPTON: Well, I'm for the repeal of the Bush tax cuts, period, because I think that they are unnecessary and they don't, in my judgment, benefit most Americans. I think that where you will need some funds, you can get it from the repeal of the tax plan. But I think you can begin by having a national health program that would then bring down some of the excessive costs, in terms of medical advertising as I've stated, in terms of some of the administrative overruns. I think that clearly as we outline this by numbers, some of the tax cut money can be committed to that, but you don't need the repealing of the tax cut to bring down some of the areas that are excessive. And clearly, if you have a national health plan, it changes the whole way we deal with looking at the budgetary obligation of the federal government. But all of that, I think, is programs. I think what we must begin with is assuring Americans the constitutional right. If Charleston Heston can have a constitutional right to bear arms for Americans, why can't we have a constitutional right to quality health care for all Americans, even if we decide later to debate and differ on how we get there? It should be a guaranteed right for every American child born to be an American citizen.
MARGARET WARNER: With all due respect, Mr. Sharpton, as I'm sure you know, many people would say it's quite impractical trying to get a constitutional amendment, and to hinge your approach to health care on that is also impractical. What do you say to that?
AL SHARPTON: Well, I think that many people thought it was impractical to have a constitutional right of free speech or religion. I mean, I think that anyone that pursues constitutional amendments are going to be told that. I would respond by saying, if you look at the right wing of this country, that's what they always organize around, is constitutional amendments-- whether it's prayer in the schools, whether it is guns, or whether it is any number of things. So why does it become impractical if I raise basic tenets like health care or education or right to vote. But it becomes more practical when people raise prayer in the school or right to bear arms. I think that that is a ridiculous notion at best. I think amendment drives, amendment movements are not impractical. In fact, they are broad based and energize a lot of Americans to give them the basic rights that they think America ought to give, and in fact makes it the country that it is.
MARGARET WARNER: But as I'm sure you know, most of these amendment drives, whether they're from the right or the left, don't succeed. Let me just ask you this. Even if it were to succeed, it takes literally years. It not only has to pass the Congress, it has to pall all the states. In the interim, what would you do for the nation's 41 million- plus uninsured?
AL SHARPTON: Well, as I said, in the interim, I am pushing very actively a national health program. I think that the federal government must step in. I think that we must use the federal resources, and I think that we must use federal accountability to guarantee health care to everyone. I think that we must move away from the whole notion that has been promoted toward privatization. I think we must move away from excessive cost, in terms of medical advertising and administrative overruns. And I think that we need to directly have the federal government be involved in the administering and guaranteeing of health care to every American citizen.
MARGARET WARNER: Reverend Al Sharpton, thanks for being with us.
AL SHARPTON: Thank you.