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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript

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<br>MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript

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O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re now less than 45 minutes away from President Obama‘s address to Congress and the nation on health care reform.

One of the people who will be in the House chamber listening closely to every word is Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Senator McCaskill, you have some—some turbulence in your town hall meetings back in the state during the August recess. What do you need the president to say tonight to get your state behind health care reform Obama style?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: Well, we‘ve got to fill in the blanks here. We‘ve let misinformation kind of take root and he‘s got to really clarify that so much of what people have heard is just flat wrong.

And he also has to lay out the stakes, Lawrence. I mean, the price of doing nothing really is huge. It is huge for middle class Missourians, it is huge for small businesses—and it‘s huge for our big companies in terms of competitiveness.

And I think the Republican Party is doing a gut check right now. Because I think they are beginning to realize that blocking health care reform is very risky business politically.

O‘DONNELL: Now, the public option is what everyone‘s concentrating on. And it has gotten the most criticism in the last several weeks. What do you want to hear the president say tonight about the public option?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think we‘ve gotten in some ways the public option has been the shiny object that has distracted us from a lot of the work that needs to get done in this bill. And I hope the president leads with all the things we agree on. Because that kind of, like, gets them out from under the cover that they‘re really playing political games.

He‘s got to call out the political games that are being played. Because there‘s a huge amount of insurance reform, there‘s a huge amount of market reform that I think the vast majority of Americans and frankly, the vast majority of Congress agrees with.

Whether we provide a public option or a co-op, something that we can inject into this exchange of the companies to provide some competition, I don‘t know if we‘ll get that done. I think we will. But it‘s not as important as getting this insurance reform done.

O‘DONNELL: What do you say to the left side of the Democratic Party, people who believe that there‘s no reform worth doing without the public option?

MCCASKILL: I think they need to keep an open mind. This president is committed to providing quality, affordable health care to all of America, but this is hard. And frankly, if it were easy it would have been done a long time ago.

We‘ve struggled with this because Congress is really good at kicking things down the road when things get controversial. This is hard stuff. And everyone needs to not get their feet stuck in cement here and be intractable.

Whether it‘s our party or whether it‘s their party. We need to listen to the president tonight, come together on a plan that makes sense for most of America and get it done.

O‘DONNELL: Now, the public option is one of the controversial elements, but there‘s also behind that all sorts of things that haven‘t gotten any real public scrutiny yet like the three new top tax brackets that were voted on in the committees of the House of Representatives.

The Finance Committee now saying they want to put a 35 percent tax on health insurance plans that are worth more than $8,000 a year which is an awful lot of people‘s health insurance plans.

Can you vote for elements like that? Are you, tonight—do you know what you can vote for and what you can‘t vote for in health care reform?

MCCASKILL: I don‘t yet because we haven‘t seen the details of the Finance plan. I‘m committed to a bill that‘s deficit neutral so we‘ve got to figure out a way to pay for it. I think we‘ve got to look at some of the waste and bloat that we have right now.

We are—right now the government is so involved in health insurance in the private sector, we‘re transferring tax dollars to these insurance companies, through Medicare “D” through Medicare advantage. We need to clean of that problem in this bill, that‘s a lot of money that we can use to pay for what we‘re doing with health care reform.

But I think taxing insurance companies on very high-end plans is on the table. I wouldn‘t agree with something as low as $6,000, $8,000. But if we‘re talking about Cadillac plans and the taxes to the insurance company and not to the person who receives the benefit, then I think that is possible.

O‘DONNELL: But if you tax an insurance company that provides me a benefit, that company is obviously going to immediately have to cut my benefits to pay that tax so my plan will change and the Obama argument that if you like your plan you can keep it starts to fall apart when the insurance companies have to change the plans because of a 35 percent tax.

MCCASKILL: Not necessarily if they are encouraged to bring down costs in other ways. That‘s why this public option or co-op becomes more important.

They‘re very profitable now. These companies have really enjoyed great profit over the last seven, eight years. While health care costs have continued to climb and premiums have continued to climb, their profits have been substantial. So I don‘t think necessarily that it‘s a pass through to the people who receive the benefits.

O‘DONNELL: Senator, you worked hard to elect Barack Obama and you worked hard to push up the Democratic majority in the Senate, get them up to 60. Did you ever think during that campaign year that what you were really doing was designing a United States Senate in which Olympia Snowe would become the most powerful senator in the building?

MCCASKILL: You know, Lawrence, you‘ve spent some time around here. And I actually understood that getting to the arbitrary number of 60 really wasn‘t going to make a huge difference because many moderate Republicans were replaced by moderate Democrats from states that are not bright blue, from states that, frankly, supported John McCain for president.

So we have a lot of moderate members now in our party where there used to be moderates in the Republican Party. They‘re all gone. We beat them all. And now there‘s just a handful which is Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

I think that people need to take a deep breath. I think our party will come together on meaningful health care reform. But the president is going to have to fill in some of the question markets right now.

Right now in Missouri, unfortunately, for some people they are more comfortable with the devil they know than the devil they don‘t know. They are assuming the worst about what‘s being proposed. We have to explain to them the best parts of what‘s being proposed.

O‘DONNELL: I know you have to run over the house chamber and grab your seat before someone else steals it from you. Thanks for joining us, Claire McCaskill.

MCCASKILL: Ok. Thank you Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL: Up next, we‘ll hear from Obama senior adviser David Axelrod on what he hopes the president will achieve tonight.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

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