NBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham John Boehner
Date: Sept. 20, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

<br>NBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript

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MR. GREGORY: And now the view from the other side of the aisle. We're joined here in Washington by Congressman John Boehner and Senator Lindsey Graham.

Welcome, both of you, back to MEET THE PRESS. Maybe we'll get to baseball if there's time, but there's a lot of substantive issues I think in that interview that I want to go through with both of you. And let me start with this, Leader Boehner. It sounds like the president was trying to cool of this debate over government, over health care. He pointedly disagreed with former President Jimmy Carter, saying the opposition against him is not about race. But he also issued a challenge to Republicans, who he said "are totally mischaracterizing the nature of our efforts." Your response.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Well, he said basically the same thing when he came to Capitol Hill and gave a speech. Took out on—took on the right for our descriptions of what they're trying to do. But if you step back and look at the bill that we have in the House—I'll let Lindsey talk about the Senate—it represents a giant takeover of our healthcare system. Now, there's no debate in Washington or around the country about the need for us to fix our healthcare system. It doesn't work well for everyone and it does—and it costs too much. But we can fix our current system, we can make it work better. We don't have to throw it away and have this big government plan that we see moving through the House. And if you look at what the president has been supporting, it's this big government plan that has some 51 new agencies, boards, commissions, mandates that is going to get in the way of delivering quality care to the American people.

MR. GREGORY: I want, I want to come back to some of the specifics about health care. But I want to, I want to stay with this tone of the debate right now and whether or not you agree that by some of the things the president said in the course of that interview, he is trying to cool off the debate, the tone of the debate. Do you see it that way?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, I don't know that the tone of the debate has gotten out of control.

MR. GREGORY: You don't think so?

REP. BOEHNER: It's been spirited, because we're talking about an issue that affects every single American. And because it affects every American in a very personal way, more Americans have been engaged in this debate than any issue in decades. And so there's room to work together. But I first believe that we've got to just take this big government option, this big government plan and move it to the side. Now, let's talk about what we can do to make our current system work better. Then we'll have some grounds on which to build.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, this was a—the cover of The Week magazine. it's got a statue of your colleague from South Carolina, Joe Wilson. It says "Mad as hell: What's driving the passionate backlash against Obama?" Do you disagree with your colleague here? Has this gotten out of hand?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Well, I, I—let me talk about the tone. I wish the president had been the way he was in your interview in the joint session. What Joe, Joe did was unacceptable and it was not proper, and we all said that, including Joe. But what the president did today is changed his tone. When he came to the House he was very combative, I thought. We're not bickering. He accused people of demagoguery who objected to his plan. He basically accused people of lying about certain aspects of his plan. And he says if you want to bicker, forget it; if you want to sit down and talk. Well, I've always wanted to sit down and talk. The president is selling something that people, quite frankly, are not buying. He's been on everything but the food channel. Just a few weeks—you know, last week he was addressing the nation.

His problem is when he says the public auction—option won't affect your healthcare choice, people don't believe that. They think if the government gets involved in private health care, that the health care they've got is going to be compromised. When he says it won't add a penny to the deficit, then the next sentence out of his mouth, "And if it does we'll pull a trigger to stop the spending." We've never pulled any triggers in any other bills. And when he talks about how you pay for it, that we're going to get $300 billion savings from Medicare and Medicaid, we've never done that before. So the problem with the president, he's saying things that people want to hear: won't add to the deficit, you'll never have to lose—you'll never be asked to give up your own health care. But when you look at the details, it just doesn't add up. And he's trying too hard. And today I thought his tone was better. But this is not about tone, this is about policy. It's not about race, it's about the president selling something that people inherently believe sounds too good and doesn't add up.

MR. GREGORY: And he speaks about the role of government. But first, Leader Boehner, do you think what Congressman Wilson did was inappropriate? And should he have been, you know, had the resolution passed against him essentially punishing him, admonishing him?

REP. BOEHNER: It was inappropriate. That's why Congressman Wilson called the White House, apologized to the president. And the president was gracious enough to accept his apology. It should have been the end of the story. Why House Democrats decided to press ahead with this resolution to, to slap his wrist is beyond me. But it looked to me like nothing more than a partisan political stunt. It didn't need to happen. It was over with. I was—as the president said, time to talk about health care, not talk about Joe Wilson.

MR. GREGORY: This question about the role of the government, and, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying this week what she worries about in terms of the tone of debate is that it could lead to violence, as it did in the ‘70s; you know, there was anti-government violence in the ‘90s in Oklahoma City, as well. How much of a concern is that? Do you share it, or do you think that that was an overstatement on her part?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, quite frankly, I mean, the whole idea of the role of government needs to be debated. The public option; she says there will be no bill coming out of the House without a public option. America is saying, listen, the government programs we've got like Medicare is $34 trillion underfunded. The Baucus bill will let—adds 11 million to a Medicaid system that can't—the states can't afford. So a lot of us are concerned that Nancy Pelosi and others are pushing government to control prices when it will not work in health care. Competition and choice. If you've got only one plan in Alabama, let the people in Alabama shop around the country for plans. But I'm not so worried about—you know, her criticism about the opponents of the plan don't bother me. The fact that we're broke...

MR. GREGORY: She's talking about violence, though.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I don't...

MR. GREGORY: I mean, we'll get to the health care. You don't buy that.

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't think any responsible person is asking for a violent response.

MR. GREGORY: Do you—is that hyperbole?

REP. BOEHNER: David, I'm, I'm not concerned about violence.

SEN. GRAHAM: No.

REP. BOEHNER: I mean, I'm sure Speaker Pelosi was sincere in her concern. But let's remember something. The debate that we're in here is not just about health care, it's about the, the trillion-dollar stimulus that was suppose to be about jobs and turned into nothing more spending—than spending and more spending. It was about a budget with a, with a nearly $2 trillion deficit this year and trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see. It's a cap and trade system, this big giant tax on the American people that this week, we just find out, the Treasury Department said will cost the average family $1700 per year. You add to that this whole question of health care and the government option, the government involvement, and Americans today are getting more news about what's happening in their government than they have ever gotten before, and Americans are genuinely scared to death. Scared to death...

MR. GREGORY: But, Leader, don't they get even more scared when you got the head of the Republican Party sending out an e-mail that, you know, to challenge the president and Democratic leaders for a socialist power grab? I mean, is that appropriate conversation? Is this, did you really think the president's a socialist?

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, when you begin to look at how much they want to grow government, you can call it whatever you want, but the fact is, is that...

MR. GREGORY: Well, what do you call it, though? This is important.

REP. BOEHNER: This is unsustainable. We're, we're broke.

MR. GREGORY: That's fine. Do you think the president's a socialist? Because that's what...

REP. BOEHNER: No.

MR. GREGORY: OK. But the head of the Republican Party is, is calling him that.

REP. BOEHNER: Well, listen, I didn't call him that and I'm not going to call him that. What's going on here is unsustainable. Our nation is broke. And, and at a time when we've got this serious economic problem, a near 10 percent unemployment, we ought to be looking to create jobs in America, not kill jobs in America. Their cap and trade proposal, all this spending, all of this debt and now their healthcare plan will make it more difficult for employers to hire people, more difficult and more expensive to have employees, which means we're going to have less jobs in America. But Americans are scared. That's why they're speaking up and that's why they're engaging in their government.

MR. GREGORY: Let, let me, let me follow up on this point specifically about health care. You were on this program back in January, and just to paraphrase what you said, you said, "We don't want to be the party of no." Now, the question is, what are the costs of inaction? The Business Roundtable has issued a report. Not, not a left wing organization, I think you probably agree. And the report is titled "Perils of Inaction: What are the Costs of Doing Nothing?" Two key findings I want to highlight. "Without significant marketplace reforms, if current trends continue, annual healthcare costs for employers will rise 166 percent over the next decade, from $10,743 per employee today to over $28,000 by 2019." Also, "If nothing changes by 2019, total healthcare spending will reach $4.4 trillion, consuming more than 20 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product." If I—the question I asked the president, Leader; if you don't want to be the party of no, what are you prepared to do? What hard choice are you prepared to make as a party to put some ideas forward and get something done on health care?

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, we've outlined a number of ideas to make the current system work better. Why not allow small employers to group together through national associations so they can buy health insurance for their employees like big companies and unions can today? Why not allow the American people to buy healthcare plans across state lines? Why not get serious about medical malpractice reform and, more importantly, the defensive medicine that doctors practice because we haven't reformed our tort system? There are ideas. I outlined some of these ideas in a letter to the president back in May, asked to sit down with he—with him and his administration. And we got a nice, polite letter back that says, "Thank you for your ideas, we'll see it at the end." I've not been to the White House since late April, early May. There's been no bipartisan conversation on Capitol Hill about health care. At some point when these big government plans fail—and they will, the Congress will not pass this—it's really time for the president to hit the reset button, just stop all of this and let's sit down and start over in a bipartisan way to build a plan that Americans will support.

MR. GREGORY: So you think the plan is dead?

REP. BOEHNER: I think it is.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, the, the, the plan that's moving through the Senate...

SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm. Right.

MR. GREGORY: ...the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee, includes a provision about controlling costs, right? And that's been the big thrust.

SEN. GRAHAM: I...

MR. GREGORY: Republicans and Democrats, the president as well. Ron Brownstein, in his column atlantic.com, writes this about the Baucus bill: "The [Congressional Budget Office] concluded that the Baucus bill could move close to universal coverage (reaching 94 percent of eligible Americans_ with a funding stream that not met the cost of expanding coverage, but also reduced the deficit in that second decade."

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Isn't that something you could support?

SEN. GRAHAM: I want to—yes. And I'm on the Wyden-Bennett bill that is deficit neutral. But the Baucus bill is getting bipartisan criticism. Democrats are saying they don't want a 35 percent tax on so-called Cadillac plans that union members are involved in, where if you have $21,000 per family, $8,000 individual, the Baucus bill taxes those plans. They're taxing medical services that companies want to provide to their employees. The employees are willing to pay for it to cover the uninsured. It puts 11 million people on a Medicaid system. It reduces Medicare by $400 billion to get to deficit neutrality. I don't believe it. We tried to reduce Medicare by $33.8 billion and couldn't get one Democrat to vote for it, so I don't believe one minute that you're going to get the Congress to reduce Medicare by $400 billion to make this thing deficit neutral. It taxes medical device companies. It puts $6 billion of tax on insurance companies that are going to be passed onto to individuals. So the taxing plan and the, and the spending cuts don't exist. They'll never going to happen. So let's put a plan on the table based on the history of the Congress that has a snowball, snowball's chance in hell of getting passed. Wyden-Bennett is a Republican saying, "I will cover everybody in this country," David, as a mandate, and Wyden is saying, "Let's do it through the private sector."

MR. GREGORY: So is there anything the president could do at this point to bring you along, to make you cross the aisle on—for this?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Meet with the Wyden-Bennett senators, seven Republicans and seven Democrats who have come up with a compromise that requires everyone to be covered but allows you to be covered through the private sector, and it's deficit neutral, and do something serious about tort reform and we're off to the races. He's changed his rhetoric because the speech was a disaster. What he's trying to sell to the American people, they don't buy. They don't believe we're going to cut Medicare the way we say we are. They don't believe we'll stop spending and pull a trigger to make it more responsible when it gets to a certain level. So the president's saying things that people want to hear, but the details don't add up. He can be on every news show until the end of time. If he doesn't get the Republicans and Democrats in a room and get off the TV, we're never going to solve this problem.

MR. GREGORY: Leader Boehner, final point on this, and it's a political point. The president has accused Republicans of dusting off the old playbook from ‘93, ‘94. But there are some political professionals who say the Democrats could lose a lot of seats next year. Do you think a repeat of 1994 is possible if they get health care?

REP. BOEHNER: I don't know whether it's possible with or without health care, but I can tell you right now is that the American people are more engaged in their government than at any time in our history. The American people are holding their members of Congress accountable for what they do and what they don't do. Now, and when people get this engaged, votes to raise taxes, votes for cap and trade, votes for a stimulus bill and bailouts are not very popular at home, and I'm looking forward to a good year next year.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about a couple of other foreign policy issues in our remaining time. Senator Graham, Afghanistan.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, sir.

MR. GREGORY: President broke ground here. He talked about a couple of things.

SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: One, that he does not believe in indefinite occupations.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Second, that he doesn't have a deadline for withdrawal. But on the question of troops he said, "Look, I'm always going to be skeptical about sending more troops into harm's way." You said he needs more troops. What struck you about what he said?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the, the tone from—the commitment during the campaign was you're—Iraq is the wrong war. Afghanistan is the war. I've got statements in 2008 where he says the central front in the battle against terror is in Afghanistan. It's the place where we were attacked, it's the place we can never let go bad again. We can never let the Taliban and the al-Qaeda come back, because it would destabilize Pakistan. During the campaign, when he was trying to say we need to get out of Iraq, he was saying we need to get deeper involved in Afghanistan. He is right now. Afghanistan has deteriorated. His rhetoric in the campaign is just as true then as it is now. I am convinced that the number of coalition forces with the current state of the Afghan army can never regain lost momentum. Admiral Mullen said we're losing momentum in Afghanistan. We need more resources. We have a strategy that started in March. It's the counterinsurgency strategy. It's not properly resourced. I don't believe it's possible to turn around Afghanistan without more American combat power somewhere near 40,000 troops.

But having said that, the key to us leaving with security and honor is to put pressure on the Karzai government. I want to help this president do the things we need to do, stand up to a skeptical public. And I understand why people are skeptical, but I'll be one Republican standing by this president and we will not do to him what they did to Bush. This is not Obama's war in Afghanistan, this is America's war, and there's a way to win it according to our commanders. We're going to need more resources to do it. And I want to help this president, because our national security interests are as ever much at stake today as they were in the election.

REP. BOEHNER: David, I, I said early in the year that if the president listened to our commanders on the ground and, and to our diplomats, that I'd be there by his side. And I supported his strategy in Iraq. I've supported his strategy in Afghanistan. But it's pretty clear, based on what I heard this morning, that the president's changing the goals here. All he talked about was going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What happened to the statement earlier this year when the president said we cannot allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to have a safe haven from which to train, operate and organize to go after Americans? That is a very big change. And so I'm really concerned. We've been asking for General McChrystal to come to Capitol Hill and testify. The request—we haven't heard anything.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well...

REP. BOEHNER: There's reports out all last week that the White House has asked General McChrystal to wait four to six weeks...

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

REP. BOEHNER: ...before sending his request in. And so there's something, there's something amiss here, and I am highly skeptical of, of the debate that we're going to have here in the next couple of months.

SEN. GRAHAM: If I may add, Admiral Mullen said urgency is the key here, a sense of urgency. We've lost momentum and we need to decide quickly. And I've been told General McChrystal's ready to hit the send button in terms of how many more troops he needs, and the longer we wait the harder it is. And you've got 68,000 people, 30,000 of them engaged in combat, that are not being properly protected. The ones that there fighting need help, and the longer we wait to give them help the harder it is on them.

MR. GREGORY: I want you on the record on the missile defense...

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, sir.

MR. GREGORY: ...change from the White House. The Defense secretary wrote in The New York Times this morning, "Those who say we're scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting what we are doing." They say they've got a better way to do this and to protect against missiles from the likes of Iran.

SEN. GRAHAM: I would say to my good friend Secretary Gates that if you are trying to tell me this has nothing to do with administration trying to get a better relationship with Russia, I don't believe you. What they did, in my view, undercut two good allies, the Poles and the Czech Republic. The technological changes they're talking about, to me, are not the center of this debate. The Russians tried to link this missile defense program with the START treaty. You should've never allowed them to do it. This is going to be seen as a capitulation to the Russians, who had no real basis to object to what we were doing. And at the end of the day you empowered the Russians, you made Iran happy and you made the people in Eastern Europe wonder who we are as Americans.

MR. GREGORY: Back home, can Governor Sanford still survive politically, do you think?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think the Ethics Committee will report about his conduct. The answer is yes if he's cleared by the Ethics Committee, he did nothing wrong. I think he can make it.

MR. GREGORY: Should he still be governor?

SEN. GRAHAM: In my view, changing the governor or impeachment has its own problems. I'd like to see Mark be able to finish out his term, but he's got to prove to me and others that he can be effective. That's a story still ongoing.

MR. GREGORY: Still open in your mind. You haven't been satisfied yet.

SEN. GRAHAM: I think Mark can make it. But the Ethics Committee will be outcome determinative, I think.

MR. GREGORY: Finally, Leader Boehner, before you go, if you work hard, if you legislate, work with your colleagues, this can all be yours. Put it up on the screen. There he is, one of your predecessors, Tom DeLay, "Dancing with the Stars." What a second act, huh?

REP. BOEHNER: I'll pass.

MR. GREGORY: You'll leave, you'll leave the dancing to him?

REP. BOEHNER: All—it's all his.

MR. GREGORY: Congress Boehner, Senator Graham, thank you both very much.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Up next, partisan politics continue. What are the risks to both sides? And is race a factor in some of the heated debate? Eugene Robinson and Roger Simon weigh in after this brief commercial break, only on MEET THE PRESS.

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