MR. GREGORY: The view from the other side with the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: Joining us now, the Senate's top Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): Glad to be with you, David.
MR. GREGORY: We just heard from the secretary of Health and Human Services, and I thought a couple of significant points, the first on timing. Is the president going to get a bill out of the House and Senate by the August recess?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I don't think he ought to get the particular bills that we've seen out of either the House or the Senate before August, because they're really not the right way to go. I mean, what's going on here, David, it's perfectly clear, this is the same kind of rush and spend strategy we saw on the stimulus bill. We're going to have a deficit this year, $1.8 trillion, that's bigger than the deficit of the last five years combined. They passed a budget that puts us on the path to double the national debt in five years, triple it in 10. And here comes health care on top of it. As you just pointed out with Secretary Sebelius, CBO says it's a quarter of a trillion dollars will not be paid for. And even if you look at the pay force, they're taking it out of the backs of senior citizens and small businesses. This is a bill that shouldn't pass at any point, either before the August recess or later in the year. What we need to come up with is a truly bipartisan proposal.
MR. GREGORY: Will they get what they, what they're working on now, though? Do you think they'll get it passed?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I certainly hope not. I don't think this particular measure ought to pass either the House or the Senate, because it's not good for the country.
MR. GREGORY: And that's the big factor here in terms of cost. Did you hear from Secretary Sebelius, who certainly recognized the fact that the CBO said that increased costs over time undermines their goal. The president would have to really drive some specific cost-cutting before signing on to these measures.
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, if you're going to do something as comprehensive as the president wants to do and you're going to pay for it, and you, you ought to pay for it, there are no easy choices. And this is what they're grappling with right now.
Let me, let me just tell you what I think, David, if I may, is flawed about the whole approach. They don't seem to grant that we have the finest health care in the world now. We need to focus on the two problems that we have, cost and access, not sort of scrap the entire healthcare system of the United States. It's laughingly said around the Senate, "Where would the Canadians go for quality health care?" John McCain and John Cornyn and I were down at MD Anderson in Houston, one of the world's famous cancer hospitals, a couple of weeks ago, having a meeting with their healthcare professionals. They take care of patients from 90 countries who come to Houston to save their lives. We have quality health care now. Surveys indicate that Americans overwhelmingly like the quality.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. McCONNELL: So let's focus on access and cost and not try to scrap the whole system.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but wait a minute. You, you say that we have the best healthcare system in the world, you say it as a matter of fact.
SEN. McCONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: But it seems to be a matter of debate. You just mentioned access. You've got 47 million people who are uninsured.
SEN. McCONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: And there are experts, including one expert who is now an Obama adviser, who actually writes about this idea that it's a myth that it's the best health care in the world.
SEN. McCONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: And this is what he wrote along with another expert last fall, saying: "It's a myth that America has the best health care in the world. The United States is number one only in one sense, the amount we shell out for health care. We have the most expensive system in the world per capita, but we lag many developed countries on virtually every health statistic you can name"; life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, death rate from prostate cancer, heart attack recovery. That's the best system in the world?
SEN. McCONNELL: That's one expert. If you look at the surveys and ask the American people what they think, they don't think quality is a problem. They think cost is a problem and access is a problem.
Let's look at access, the people who are uninsured that you mentioned. A better way to begin to deal with that problem is to equalize the tax treatment. Right now if you're running a business and you provide health care for your employees, it's deductible on your corporate tax return. But if you're an individual buying health care on the open market, it's not deductible to you. We ought to equalize the tax treatment. Another cost item we seriously ought to address, that the administration only pays lip service to and some of the proposals kicking around in Congress actually discourage, are these wellness efforts that we've seen on display, for example, at the Safeway company, which through their own efforts have targeted the five biggest categories of preventable disease--smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and lack of exercise--and incentivized their employees to improve their personal behavior in all of those areas and capped their costs. They never mentioned junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. We're spending billions every year, billions in junk lawsuits defending, in defensive medicine, defending all these lawsuits. They don't want to do anything about that.
MR. GREGORY: And yet you say that the time is now to act. You think something must be done.
SEN. McCONNELL: Oh, absolutely. I'm not in favor of doing nothing. We have a cost problem and we have an access problem. We do not have a quality problem.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think it's a moral issue that 47 million Americans go without health insurance?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, they don't go without health care. It's not the most efficient way to provide it. As we know, the doctors in the hospitals are sworn to provide health care. We all agree it is not the most efficient way to provide health care to find somebody only in the emergency room and then pass those costs on to those who are paying for insurance. So it is important, I think, to reduce the number of uninsured. The question is, what is the best way to do that? The proposals over in the House, according to CBO, not only aren't paid for, they don't really dramatically increase the--decrease the number of uninsured.
MR. GREGORY: Ted Kennedy, a driving force behind healthcare legislation--Senator Kennedy, obviously, suffering from brain cancer. He's on the cover of Newsweek magazine, he's written an essay, and in it he writes this: "Quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to. This is the cause of my life. It's a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic Convention in Denver--to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American...will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege." Is he a driving force in this debate that will prevail, in the end?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, we all love Ted Kennedy and we wish him well and hope for his recovery. But we don't necessarily agree that his particular prescription is going to bring about quality health care for Americans, for all Americans. We'd all like to do that. The problem is the direction in which the Democratic majority seems to want to go and the president wants to go would basically put the government in charge of our health care. We've had an experience with that already with government-run automobile companies. Ford Motor Company makes automobiles in my hometown. The CEO called me up recently and he said, "We're doing reasonably well compared to everybody else in this recession. People appreciate the fact that we haven't taken any money from the government. But we've got a problem. The government now runs the finance companies of GM and Chrysler. And since they're running the finance companies, they're undercutting us on the financing of our automobiles." Sound familiar? When Secretary Sebelius says that there will be more competition if you have a government-run insurance company, there will be no competition. The government will, with the backstop of the taxpayers, undercut the 1300 or so health insurance companies we have. We won't have any competition at all. Pretty soon the doctors and the hospitals will all be working for the government. And the notion that this'll be cheaper, I'm reminded of what the humorist P.J. O'Rourke said: "If you think that health care is expensive now, wait till it's free."
MR. GREGORY: Although it's pretty expensive now.
SEN. McCONNELL: It is.
MR. GREGORY: And there are issues like rationing the, the Republicans bring up that goes on now, when private insurance companies say you can't have certain things covered. That already exists.
SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah. Not like it would if you had a government plan. I had a friend of mine in Florida who called up recently and said he'd just lost a friend of his in Canada because the government decided he was too old for a certain kind of procedure, and apparently he didn't have the money or the ability to get down to the United States for quality health care. I don't think that's the direction the American people want us to go, David.
MR. GREGORY: Final point on this, and that's political tactics here.
SEN. McCONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: This is what the Washington Post reported Saturday: "[The] main goal [of Republicans] is to slow down the pace of legislation in Congress in the hope of fomenting wider opposition. `If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo,' Senator Jim DeMint said during a conference call with conservative activists. `It will break him.'" Is this constructive opposition?
SEN. McCONNELL: Look, my goal is not to stop the president, my goal is to get the right kind of health care for America. And the direction in which the president and the majority in the House and Senate want to take this is the wrong direction. What we hope to do is to have enough time here for people to truly understand what's going on. As you know, David, they're having a hard time--our Democratic friends are having a hard time selling this to their own members, a very difficult time, because it's a flawed approach and the wrong direction in which to go.
MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to the economy.
SEN. McCONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: You have said that the stimulus plan was a failure. Critics on the left have said it's simply too small, there needs to be more stimulus.
SEN. McCONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: Paul Krugman, columnist for The New York Times, liberal economist, wrote this on July 9th: "Policymakers should stay calm in the face of disappointing early results, recognizing that the plan will take time to deliver its full benefit. But they should also be prepared to add to the stimulus now that it's clear that the first round wasn't big enough. ... Republicans--and some Democrats--have treated any bad news as evidence of failure, rather than as a reason to make the policy stronger."
SEN. McCONNELL: We've got an old saying down home that there's no education in the second kick of a mule. We've seen what happened with the first stimulus. The president said "Rush and spend it, pass it, we'll, we'll hold unemployment to 8 percent," which now pretty clear we're going to 10. In my state it's almost 11. By any measurable index, the stimulus package has been a failure.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEN. McCONNELL: And we are adding, as I indicated earlier, dramatic amounts of money to the deficit. We're spending, David, $100 million a day in interest on the stimulus that we passed back in January--February. The rush and spend was what they told us; pass it and we'll hold unemployment to 8 percent. By any objective standard, this has been a failure.
MR. GREGORY: You have announced that you will oppose Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Why?
SEN. McCONNELL: I think her personal story is remarkable. I myself am married to an immigrant who came to this country not speaking a word of English and who ended up in the president's Cabinet. I'm a big fan of her career, the way she rose from humble beginnings and went to fine schools and had a, a marvelous career. The--but the problem is, as the president himself indicated in opposing Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, both of whom he opposed, and he filibustered Justice Alito, we're looking for judges here who're going to be, as Chief Justice Roberts said, an umpire, call the balls and strikes. And what I worry about with regard to Judge Sotomayor is that her personal views, which she's expressed quite frequently, lead me to believe that she's--lacks the objectivity that you would prefer to have in a member of the Supreme Court. And by the way, there's no appeal from the Supreme Court. It, it's the last word.
MR. GREGORY: Do you see anything stopping her confirmation?
SEN. McCONNELL: Oh, I'm not going to predict the outcome. I, I'm, I'm just...
MR. GREGORY: But there will be Republican support.
SEN. McCONNELL: There, there were three Republicans announce their support Friday. As I said, she's, she's an outstanding individual and should be commended for her lifetime of public service.
MR. GREGORY: Before you go, it's been a disturbing development overnight, a U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban and they've made a videotape showing him speaking about the hardships of the war. What's troubling, as you see this at a time of ramped-up commitment of troops to Afghanistan? What's troubling to you about seeing, seeing that video at this point?
SEN. McCONNELL: Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were going to show it.
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MR. GREGORY: No.
SEN. McCONNELL: The, the president's doing the right thing in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It's regretful that this soldier has been captured, but it illustrates, again, the nature of the enemy, that they would try to coerce an American soldier into saying bad things about his country or to, or to suggest that we ought to stop the effort in Afghanistan. The president, in my view--I want to--happy to say something nice about him here, something supportive. I think he's done the right thing in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He's recognized that being on offense in both those countries has kept us safe. And it's just regretful that this soldier has been captured.
MR. GREGORY: Senator McConnell, thank you very much for being here this morning.
SEN. McCONNELL: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: And up next, a crucial moment for the Obama administration on both health care and the economy. Our political roundtable weighs in: Paul Gigot, John Harwood, Richard Wolffe and Michele Norris. Plus, our MEET THE PRESS Minute, remembering Walter Cronkite, after this brief station break.