MS. O'DONNELL: Welcome back to MSNBC, your place for politics. John McCain today laid out his health care plan that would offer families a $5,000 tax credit to buy health insurance. Elizabeth Edwards has been a passionate critic of Senator McCain's plan, and just moments ago, right here on MSNBC, she told us his plan won't work. Take a listen.
ELIZABETH EDWARDS (via recording): I'm feeling great because I have health care coverage -- (laughs) -- because I get treatment for my preexisting condition. I have -- I'm feeling quite well. I fear for my brothers and sisters, should Senator McCain's policy become the policy -- the health care policy of this country.
MS. O'DONNELL: Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is a medical doctor and is also a McCain supporter and joins us now.
Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. COBURN: It's a pleasure to be with you.
MS. O'DONNELL: Let's talk first about the health care proposal that Senator McCain laid out today; $2,500 for individual tax credit, $5,000 tax credit for families. As Elizabeth Edwards has pointed out here on MSNBC, that is not enough. And essentially, what you're going to do is encourage employers to kick people off their plans and people will be left with just a $5,000 -- families -- tax credit to buy health insurance and that won't do it. Your response?
SEN. COBURN: Well, I think that's a completely inaccurate description of it. What Elizabeth Edwards would propose is that we do what they do in England and when you have breast cancer you get wait six to nine months to a year before you ever get any treatment. The fact is, is this is a tax credits to be used in conjunction with the other insurance that you have. And there's no incentive -- matter of fact, there's still an incentive for employers to maintain their coverage.
And the problem in diagnosing what's wrong with health care in America is -- we have great health care. The problem is, is a third of the dollars that we spend on health care don't go to help anybody get well and don't prevent anybody from getting sick. So his plan will actually start getting this to where we control the cost. If the cost were a third lower, most people who don't have insurance today could have insurance and the cost in Medicare and Medicaid would go down dramatically. There's $90 billion worth of fraud right now in Medicare.
MS. O'DONNELL: Well, what is in John McCain's plan to lower the cost of medical care? I mean, everybody wants to lower the cost of medical care.
SEN. COBURN: Okay, it is --
MS. O'DONNELL: Every president, every politician, including yourself, has tried to do it. And guess what? The costs just keep going up.
SEN. COBURN: Well, that's not true. If you take Safeway, where they've managed and they've done prevention -- the way to lower cost in health care is the way we would lower cost on any other thing that we consume in this country, and that's to create a truly transparent and competitive market that put patients back in control of their health care, give them the freedom to choose what health care they want. Markets aren't perfect, but they're an awfully lot better than what we have today. You have uncontrolled costs spiraling out of control at the rate of eight to 10 percent per year when the true costs and the true technology gains are about two percent.
So what we're going to do is utilize what works everywhere else in our economy, and that is transparent markets, where -- ask yourself this question --
MS. O'DONNELL: Senator --
SEN. COBURN: Go ahead.
MS. O'DONNELL: Let's move on from that, because I want to get you on one other issue, the issue of Iraq, which Senator McCain is well known for. He has been in favor of essentially staying the course in Iraq. But I want to play for you essentially what John McCain told Chris Matthews back in January of 2005, followed by what he said on the campaign trail just last week. Some people say this is an example of flip-flopping.
CHRIS MATTHEWS (via recording): Would you happy with that being the home of a U.S. garrison like Guantanamo or Germany all those years where we have 50,000 troops permanently stationed in that country?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ, via recording): No. I would hope that we could bring them all home. I would hope that we would probably leave some military advisers. As soon as we can reduce our visibility as much as possible, the better I think it's going to be.
SEN. MCCAIN (second recording): If we leave Iraq, according to the wishes of some that -- then we will have chaos and genocide and we will be back.
MS. O'DONNELL: How would you respond to the claims that John McCain has essentially flip-flopped in Iraq in an effort to appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party?
SEN. COBURN: Well, I quite frankly don't see it. John McCain's position on Iraq is about the national security of this country and the battle that we have in terms of the Islamic terrorists. To say that we want to downgrade is true, we do, but we can't abandon a force in the Middle East at the present time until we've looked at all the national security issues we have in terms of this threat from radical Islam. I didn't find any real inconsistency in what he said.
MS. O'DONNELL: And then finally, Senator, I have to ask you about a moment, of course, in the last Democratic debate, when Senator Obama referenced you specifically, saying that he couldn't distance himself from you, Senator Coburn, because you guys are friends, even though he disagreed with you on a number of issues. What did you make of that reference by Senator Obama?
SEN. COBURN: Well, I think the problem is our politicians that are running for the highest office in the land ought to answer the questions and not duck by asking another question. Barack's my friend, but he didn't answer the question.
MS. O'DONNELL: Do you think he's elitist? Do you think he's an elitist?
SEN. COBURN: I don't know whether he's an elitist. That's for the campaigns and American people to decide. He is a nice man and I get along with him well, but he should be answering the tough questions, just as John McCain should and anybody else that's running for that office.
MS. O'DONNELL: Well, we thank you for answering the tough questions on health care and Iraq and everything.
SEN. COBURN: Glad to do it.
MS. O'DONNELL: And we appreciate it, Senator. Thank you.
SEN. COBURN: Good to be with you.