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CNN "State Of The Union With Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

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CROWLEY: ... Republican message to President Obama on health care, start over. But the president is signaling that is not going to happen. Joining us now from his home state of Kentucky is the Senate's top Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell.

Senator, thank you for joining us.

MCCONNELL: Good morning. And congratulations, Candy, on taking over the show.

CROWLEY: Thank you very much.

Let me start with your ending position after the summit. And that is, start over again.

CROWLEY: Short of that, is there any way the president can reconfigure this bill that would get your support?

MCCONNELL: I don't think so, Candy. I mean, this is a massive overhaul of one-sixth of the economy. Republicans just don't believe that half-a-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts and a half-a-trillion dollars in new taxes and possibly higher insurance premiums for all of those on the individual market is the definition of reform.

We -- we had a chance Thursday actually to display some of our brightest, most knowledgeable Republicans. I thought it was actually very good for us because it certainly refuted the notion that Republicans are not interested in this subject and not knowledgeable about it and don't have alternatives.

And we laid out a number of different things that we think will make a lot more sense, to go step by step to fix the cost problem. And also, it's important to remember, the American people do not want this bill. They have paid a lot of attention to this issue. They have focused on it like a laser for months. The surveys are...

CROWLEY: But if you took -- if you took something like malpractice reform, which you all have really wanted to put in there in a real form rather than just pilot programs here and there, suppose the president said, "Fine, let's have something meaningful in malpractice reform. We will put it in this bill," that's not enough to win Republican votes? I mean, you're still in the minority. You can't write the bills. People voted for Democrats. Why not just get as much as you can into it and vote for it?

MCCONNELL: Well, that would be great, but that's not enough to compensate for this massive government takeover of the -- of the U.S. health care system. It's just simply not symmetrical tradeoff, if you will. That would be a step in the right direction, but I don't think that that alone is going to get many of our votes.

CROWLEY: So you see a block of...

MCCONNELL: We think we ought to start over, Candy.

CROWLEY: I know. I understand. So you see, since he's not going to start over, it's done, it's -- you know, it's going to come up, all the Republicans are going to vote no on the Senate side?

MCCONNELL: Yes, I think that's right.

CROWLEY: OK.

MCCONNELL: And I think they will pursue the -- the parliamentary device called reconciliation, which, in effect, as Senator Byrd, who wrote the budget law and who had something to say about the use of this device within the last year, he said it would be an outrage that must be resisted.

And why did he say that, Candy? He said it because you would have an unelected official, the Senate parliamentarian, appointed by the majority, basically determining what American health care is going to look like. And that's why Senator Byrd had that severe reaction to using this particular approach on this kind of massive restructuring of American society.

CROWLEY: He did, Senator. But I just want to -- and I know you've heard this argument -- I want to point something out to our viewers, and that is, since 1980, there have been 16 times that reconciliation was used under a Republican-controlled Senate and there were six times under a Democratic-controlled Senate.

So it's not all that unusual. The minority always hates it, because it takes away their filibuster power, but these were not just budget issues. This was welfare reform. These were the Bush tax cuts. These were things like that. And you voted for reconciliation.

So -- so, you know, beyond that, if we could get to the issue of what can you do -- you're going to vote no, but are their things within the parameters -- that the Democrats seem to be willing to go for reconciliation -- is there something that you all can do in that process to either slow this down or stop it?

MCCONNELL: Well, let's talk about the fairness of it. Just because it's been used before for lesser issues doesn't mean it's appropriate for this issue.

You had Senator Byrd himself, the president pro tem of the Senate, the former Democratic majority leader, saying within the last year to use this device for something like health care would be an outrage which must be resisted. That's a Democrat, Candy. That's not Republicans.

There are a number of other Republicans who do not think something of this magnitude ought to be jammed down the throats of a public that doesn't want it through this kind of device.

CROWLEY: You heard the speaker say, I think, that she thinks that this is basically in how it's been sold, that you all have gone out there and sold this as something as a huge government takeover, which it's not, that you've talked about how this is going to make the government the doctor.

Do you think that this has been a good sales job on your part? And might it just be that, if Americans find after they use whatever process is going to be used to get this passed, they may find that they like not having the insurance companies, for instance, being able to throw them off when they get sick or to say, OK, you've already gotten as much insurance as you can and you're capped out.

Aren't Americans going to like that? I mean, there are many desperate Americans. I know you hear them all the time when you go home.

MCCONNELL: Well, many of these insurance reforms we could pass on a bipartisan basis, but you wouldn't have to cut Medicare by half- a-trillion dollars, levy a half-a-trillion-dollar tax increase, put that on the side, and let's talk about insurance reform and legal reform, getting rid of junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. Those are the kinds of step-by-step reforms that we've been -- that we've been talking about.

And, by the way, on this process of reconciliation, Gallup asked the American people how they felt about it and asked the question in a very balanced way, and the results were just out a couple of days ago. The American people do not want us to use that kind of parliamentary device to jam this down their throats.

CROWLEY: Can we -- I want to talk about the political calculation here in a second, but I just want to go back to one question, and that is, is there something within reconciliation, which it does appear is going to happen despite the objections of the majority and some Democrats, that it will happen, is there something within that process that you can do?

MCCONNELL: Well, it won't surprise you to know that I wouldn't want to lay out in advance the various approaches that might be taken to prevent that from happening.

But, you know, I think in Washington they want to portray this as an argument between Democrats and Republicans. Actually, Candy, this is an argument between the Democrats and the American people.

We know the American people oppose this bill. They oppose using reconciliation to pass this bill. So this is really the Democratic majority in, frankly, a kind of arrogant way, saying we're smarter than you are, Americans, we're going to give this to you whether you want it or not.

CROWLEY: Given -- you've mentioned the polls a couple of times. You know, the news media lives and breathes on polls, and they're always important, but one of the calculations here, when people are looking at this, the critics of the Republican Party say the reason they're doing this is they have looked at those polls and they don't want to give the president a break, they don't want to move forward for this country because they believe this is an issue that's going to win them seats in November. Dissuade me of that.

MCCONNELL: Look, this is not about the president. This is about America's health care. This is not about the -- the Democrats even. It's about the American people.

And they have followed this issue, Candy, like no other. I don't think that everything we do ought to be poll-driven, but we've had a six-month, very detailed debate about this issue. Three hundred million Americans, regardless of age, care about their -- their health. They have really followed this like no other issue. They know what's going on. They do not want this package. And the majority is basically saying to the American people, "We're smarter than you are. You sort of sit down and shut up and get out of the way, and we're going to give this to you whether you want it or not."

CROWLEY: Senator, let me ask you a couple political questions in our closing minutes. The first is, do you think you're going to pick up Senate seats this November? How many?

MCCONNELL: Oh, gosh, who knows what the environment will be like in November? Obviously, we're optimistic. I think the elections in Virginia and New Jersey -- and particularly Massachusetts -- were encouraging.

But in the meantime, we need to be doing the people's business and not trying to predict what the environment may be in November. If the election were today, we'd have a very good day.

CROWLEY: And let me ask you about the Tea Party, which is -- the Republicans are trying to embrace, but it's proven difficult, because in some cases, in Senate races as well as in the House races, sitting congressmen and senators are being challenged on the right from the Tea Party. Do you think that the Tea Party helps the Republicans in every case?

MCCONNELL: I do. I think it's going to be -- it's an indication of the energy out in the country. A lot of people principally driven by this outrageous federal debt that we have are -- are energized and want to change the country.

Most of them are going to be participating in Republican primaries. Those primaries will determine who our nominees are in the fall. And then I think that energy will be beneficial to us, yes, I do.

CROWLEY: Senator Mitch McConnell, coming to us from his home state of Kentucky, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it, and I hope you'll come back.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

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