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CROWLEY: If health care is going to get to the president is the next ten days, it will happen because Democrats like Chris Van Hollen convince Democrats like Brian Baird to support the measure. So let me start with you and the basic question, is health care going to pass? Do you right now have a mortal lock on 216 votes?
VAN HOLLEN: I believe it will pass. Do we have a mortal lock? No. Because people are still looking at some of the changes that are being made to the bill. The president of course sent Congress a letter with some additional ideas based on the bipartisan summit he had. So until people have a final product that they are able to look at and the Congressional Budget Office, our referee on budget issues, says whether or not this will do what the earlier bills did, then I think it's going to be hard to get people to commit. But I think the trend is in the right direction, because people see that the status quo is absolutely broken. They are seeing these skyrocketing health premiums around the country, they are seeing that people continue to lose their health care coverage every day, whether it's because of costs or because they lose their job and then they lose their health care. So if you ask people now, I think do you want us to stop and walk away, the clear answer is no.
CROWLEY: I will get back to that point in a second. But as one of those who is not committed at this very moment, you voted no on the House bill the last time around. What is it about the Senate bill that you all will be voting on through this reconciliation process that makes you even consider voting yes?
BAIRD: Well, the first thing is, I want to absolutely agree with Chris. There is no question that we need to reform. The current system, the rising costs, the numbers of uninsured, the ability to be rejected if you have a preexisting condition, is absolutely unacceptable. We have to do something. And I actually applaud President Obama and the Democratic Party for taking this difficult challenge on.
The House bill, you know, I think I'm in a place where many Americans are. They see the need for reform. The question is, is this the best way we can do reform? And it is very complicated. It will be expensive, though to its credit, both bills, the House bill and the Senate bill, will be largely paid for and actually reduce the deficit over time.
CROWLEY: So if you are convinced of that, why don't you just say, yes, I am going to vote for it?
BAIRD: Well, I would have approached it perhaps a good bit differently. I would like to see us start and say, what are the things we can agree on? I think most Americans agree that you should not discriminate against preexisting conditions. I think it makes a lot of sense to be able to buy policies across state lines, so you have competition and you can carry your policy with you if you move or lose your job.
The complexity I think worries a lot of people. And when you read these bills, they are very long, very complicated, because they build on an existing complicated system. And it's not really a system. It's a hodgepodge of Medicare A, B, D, Medicaid, state programs, SCHIP et cetera. That worries a lot of people, and frankly, it troubles me.
CROWLEY: Congressman, you are retiring. And one of the things that we have heard out there is that the pitch to retiring Democrats is, take one for the team here. We really need your vote. We have got some problems with those who -- who have problems with the abortion language, so go ahead and take one for the team. How does that pitch strike you?
BAIRD: It has no impact on me whatsoever, and here is why. I spent 23 years of my life delivering health care. I was a neuro psychologist before I came to Congress. That was the career and profession I chose because health care matters so much to me. So at the end of the day, to say, well, do this for political reasons or don't do it for political reasons, makes no difference to me. The only thing I care about is this the best policy we can do under the circumstances for the American people?
CROWLEY: Congressman Baird is concerned about some things that are not going to change in this bill, as he just articulated, so you know, what do you say to get this vote here?
VAN HOLLEN: First, I would not ask Brian to vote for this just for the team, and I have not asked him to do it. I mean, I've asked Brian to look at the bills, as he has, and I am sure he will wait until the Congressional Budget Office comes back with its analysis. That's what we would expect of any member.
CROWLEY: His complaints were not about the budget.
VAN HOLLEN: But when it comes to things like preexisting conditions, these bills prohibit discrimination based on preexisting conditions. And what became very clear at the White House discussion is that the Republican alternative does not prohibit discrimination on those things. They create a high risk pool, which has been tried in many states. But the problem is, it hasn't worked successfully.
We do have exchanges. We have exchanges that have a referee on the field, just like the federal employees health benefit plan that members of Congress use. That's the model we have so that people can have that choice and that competition.
So I believe that a lot of the issues that Brian has raised are addressed in the bill, and what has to happen is, as the change, the most recent changes the president has made or suggested or incorporated, I hope it will meet his tests. But on those two points that he raised, these bills are a lot better off than the status quo. They make Americans a lot better off than the status quo.
CROWLEY: So you're nodding. So are you ready to vote yes?
BAIRD: No, what I want to say is, Chris is absolutely right. You know, you have got a system -- again, it's not a system -- a hodgepodge, an amalgamation of prior programs that doesn't work very well.
Chris is absolutely right, this is an improvement. It's, as they say in Spanish, menos mal (ph), less bad, for sure. The House bill was better than the status quo. I think the Senate bill is better than that.
My problem is, I still see a number of difficulties with the whole structure. And my personal struggle, quite frankly, is could we not do this in a much more elegant, simple, direct, straightforward way? I think we could. I doubt I am going to get a chance to do that, so the difficult choice for some of us is to say, this is not the bill I would write by a darn sight, but it's certainly better than the status quo. What would we do if we don't have this option? CROWLEY: You would vote against it if you come to the conclusion that you don't like it, even if it meant health care went down?
CROWLEY: OK. I want to --
BAIRD: Let me clarify that. The problem is, if I think we could come up with a better solution, OK, than just to say health care reform goes down and therefore nothing ever happens, that would be a tragedy. And so that's the choice. I don't think this bill is what I would like to see us do if I could -- if I ran the universe, as it were, but I don't get to do that. So the status quo is unsustainable.
VAN HOLLEN: Just on that point, though. I mean, for example, I wish we had a public option going forward. I think that would create even more competition.
CROWLEY: Public option out, by the way? Because there is a lot of pressure because of reconciliation. You could slip it in if you wanted into the fixes. Are you going to do that?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, my understanding is that although there was clearly a majority on the House side to do it, it's not clear at all that there is a majority in the Senate to do it. And obviously if you -- so if there is not a majority in the Senate to do it, obviously you cannot incorporate it in the final bill.
CROWLEY: OK. Let me -- another one of your problems, and a congressman that you will both recognize. I just want to play a little bit from him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STUPAK: We say we will maintain current law, no public funding for abortion. We will not compromise that principle or belief.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Now, I know you are going to argue that there is no public funding for abortion in this bill. But let's get beyond that. Congressman Stupak believes that there is funding. How do you get around this particular issue? Because he could take up to a dozen Democrats with him and that begins to get into dicey territory.
VAN HOLLEN: Well, we are going to continue to work with Bart Stupak, and those members for whom that was the biggest concern. Because you have in the Senate pro-life members like Senator Casey, Senator Nelson, all of whom were clearly satisfied that the way the Senate did it met our objective of making sure that no public funds can go to abortion.
The issue is what can you use your own money for? In other words, right, right now today, if you want to go out with your own money and purchase a health care plan, you have that option.
VAN HOLLEN: And so --
CROWLEY: Sure, and we know he would argue if you give them a subsidy, you really are subsidizing abortion coverage, so the fact of the matter is he is not convinced by that argument. So have you lost Stupak and the other or so other congressmen that would go with him?
VAN HOLLEN: I don't think we have lost -- well obviously Bart Stupak as of today says he is not satisfied. We will continue to explore ways to get it done. But as has been made clear by the parliamentarian under the reconciliation process, the majority rule process, there are limits to the changes you can make in the Senate bill. So this is going to be a discussion, and we are going to be engaged in that dialogue for some time until we get it done.
CROWLEY: I would love to be in on the discussion, so invite me anytime. Let me ask you, if you are both comfortable with the notion that a bill which encompasses one sixth of the economy is going to e passed or may be passed out of Congress and signed by the president that is all Democratic, that not a single Republican vote, a Democratic president, is that a comfortable place for you all to be?
BAIRD: Let me put a mark on that. I oppose the House procedure. When the bill came up before the House, I felt we should have allowed the Republicans to offer amendments, we did not. And I think that was a mistake. It's part of why I voted no on the rule.
Having said that, you know, when you watch the president's summit, time after time after time he said to the Republicans is there anything in this you would agree with, and they dodge the question. You know if you don't have -- Tom DeLay was on "Dancing with the Stars," we don't have a dance partner. We don't have someone on the other side who is seriously willing to say if you do these things, you will have our support. And the reason is they see it as such a potent political weapon. And so they're taking the health care --
CROWLEY: No Republican in the Senate or the House has any interest in getting health care to the uninsured or in getting --
BAIRD: No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is I think at this point they are not willing to even come a little bit of distance to try to find common ground because they are so eager to have this as a political weapon in the fall. And that's terribly unfortunate. If that's the case, and if a handful of people in the Senate can tie things up with record numbers of filibusters, you are left relatively no choice. But let's be clear about two things. One, the choice you're left with is a majority vote which I think most people think is how we ought to do things anyway, and secondly the Republicans used reconciliation multiple times including for the mother of all deficit increases, the Bush tax cuts.
CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, without arguing reconciliation, because I think that's -- we have sort of argued that before and parties tend to switch sides depending on whether they're the minority or the majority on how they feel about it, but the fact of the matter is that this is a humongous bill that is going to change a segment of -- it's going to touch every American household and not a single Republican is going to vote for it. And I think it is hard for people to believe that every Republican up there is not the least bit interested in helping Americans get health care.
VAN HOLLEN: Nobody has said that they are not the least bit interests, but what we've said is put your plan on the table. And they did put their plan on the table. The Congressional Budget Office has looked at it. It's available on the Internet. Everybody should take a look at it. It only covers an additional 3 million people over the next 10 years, compared to over 30 million people that are covered by House and Senate under the president's plan.
It does not prohibit insurance companies from denying people based on preexisting conditions. Back in September when the president addressed the Congress, all Republican colleagues stood on their feet and clapped when the president said he wanted to make that prohibition real.
It's not in their plan. And that's what became very clear at the White House. And so I would ask the alternative question, are we really going to say that just because Republicans are not going to support a plan that advances the cause of health care reform that we are going to say, oh, time-out, we are not going to do it.
CROWLEY: I want to switch the topic slightly to politics and we take a lot of our political cues from those late-night shows, including "Saturday Night Live," where I think you sometimes can get into what is in the ground water out there. And this was from last night's "Saturday Night Live."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRED ARMISEN, ACTOR: Finally, after decades of effort, we will have real health care reform even though as I have said, it may not be popular or viewed favorably by Americans, or what the people want us to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: So the question here is -- and the president came close to saying it himself, not just the person playing the president, are Democrats willing to vote for this bill at the cost of their own seats? Because your job is to get Democrats elected. This still shows that people would like health care reform but they don't like this particular health care reform? VAN HOLLEN: Well what we're fighting, Candy, as you know is that people do like the individual elements of the bill. What they have concerns with is the overall package. It's also partly because of the back and forth in the process. For example, when the Senate put that Nebraska deal in there, understandably people were upset. I mean, that was a ridiculous deal.
CROWLEY: They were upset before, though. They don't like the size of the bill. They don't like how much it costs. And yes, they like the elements of the bill but it's the totality of it that has turned people off. And you have to sell that this November. In all of these swing districts, and you know from swing districts your congressmen are going to have to sell this, and it looks like a very uphill climb particularly if you're going to have a jobless rate of 9.5.
VAN HOLLEN: But at the end of the day, people are also facing these skyrocketing premiums. They are all getting their notices right now saying if you do nothing, your family could go bankrupt, your small business is in trouble, the federal government is in trouble. It's absolutely unsustainable.
And then they look at last year when the economy was really down and see that the health insurance companies made record profits in a year when everybody else was struggling, and at the same time dropped 2.7 million Americans from their rolls.
And it's very clear that right now you have a system that is controlled and run by the insurance companies and people do not want that. So I think at the end of the day, we are going to be able to make a very strong case that you cannot continue with the status quo and the Republicans have not presented a viable alternative for change.
CROWLEY: Let me give you the last word here, and that is that even the White House believes unemployment will be around 9.5 or so in November. You've got a health care bill that right now looks unpopular. It's a tough, tough sell to say, well the economy would have been worse had we not done something. What is your short answer to how difficult it's going to be for your brethren who are running for reelection?
BAIRD: Let me put a human face in the debate. A friend of mine has kidney cancer. He lost his job through no fault of his own. The economy turned around. His entire life now is focused on trying to find a job that has a health insurance plan that will cover him for his health needs. His whole life, our Democratic bill, would try to correct that. Now again, I think it's much more complex than I would have favored it. But for that person relative to his situation, he understands why their needs to be a reform.
CROWLEY: OK, I have to leave it there, Congressman Baird, Congressman Van Hollen, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
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