NBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham Chuck Schumer
Date: March 28, 2010
Location: Unknown

MR. GREGORY: Will reform work and what are its real economic consequences? Plus, what does it mean for the rest of the president's agenda--jobs, climate change, and immigration? A debate this morning between Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina.

Then, the political fallout, rage against Washington, have opponents gone too far? And will voter anger sweep Democrats from power in November as Republicans hope a repeal healthcare message returns the GOP to power in Congress. Insights and analysis from our roundtable: Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

Finally in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, we look back at another major piece of healthcare legislation that had Congressional Republicans talking about repeal.

But first, the vote may be over, but the debate over healthcare reform and its effects continues. With us this morning, Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham. They have escaped the pressure cooker of Washington and gone back home.

Where no doubt your constituents will have a lot to say about the legacy of healthcare reform. Welcome to both of you.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): Morning.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about this legacy question. Senator Schumer, is it going to be that millions of additional Americans are covered with health insurance, or is it going to be headlines like we saw this week that AT&T and other companies will take a billion-dollar charge because of lost deductions as a result of this law and that ultimately they may provide fewer benefits to their, to their employees?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I think as people learn about the bill, and now that the bill is enacted, it's going to become more and more popular. And here's why, two things happen, David. First, the lies that have been spread, they vanish because you see what's in the bill. We had "death panels" in the summer. People are going to see there are no death panels. "Illegal immigrants are going to get health care," it's clear that's not true in the bill. And the number one lie that bothers people is "You'll lose your insurance if you have it now and you're pretty happy with it." I had a firefighter come to me at the Rockville Centre St. Patrick's Day parade last Saturday, he was all upset, he said, "I'm going to lose my health benefits." I said, "Where do you work?" He said, "I'm a New York City firefighter." Well, this bill isn't going to touch his benefits, which are very good. And, as we go through the next several months, he'll, he'll learn that and feel much better about the bill.

Then, at the same time, the positives are going to start weighing in. Senior citizens will get much better opportunities to buy prescription drugs, which we know they care about. Small businesses will get tax breaks so they'll be either able to cover their employees--many small business people want to but can't afford it--or keep the coverage if they have it already. People will be less likely to be--have their insurance policies canceled when they get sick. That's a big thing to people.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: And then there's a little hidden one, just one final one. If you're up to 26 years old you can stay on your parents' health coverage. My daughter is graduating from law school. We told her the day after she graduates she's on her own. She has a job in September, but she was fretting what does she do for the four months? Does she buy health insurance for $1200 a month? Well, she called me up at midnight after the bill passed and said, "Dad, I'm covered."

MR. GREGORY: Senator...

SEN. SCHUMER: "I'm--I feel great." There are going to be millions of calls like that. So I predict, David, by November those who voted for health care will find it an asset, those who voted against it will find it a liability.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, we'll go through this in greater detail.

Senator Graham, the same legacy question for you, but here's the backdrop in terms of what people actually think about this. After all has been said and done, a 13-month pitched battle over this, whereas the president said, "Everybody had their peace on this. Every, every opinion was aired," and this is the polling from The Washington Post out this morning, 50 percent still oppose healthcare reform. What's the legacy?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I think it's going to be on the Medicare front that we're going to take $570 billion out of Medicare, which is already $34 trillion underfunded, and give it to somebody else. So the legacy for Medicare is going to be devastating. If you're a senior citizen in South Carolina and New York, you're going to lose your Medicare Advantage. The legacy on taxes is going to be enormous, from 2014 to 2023 a trillion dollars in additional taxes. The legacy for student loans is going to be terrible because, in this bill, the federal government takes over the student loan program; and if you think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did a good job with housings, wait till the government runs student loans, $9 billion taken out of the student loan program to pay for health care. So the process that led to this bill was sleazy. It was the worst of Washington, it was not transparent. The substance of this bill is massive in terms of taxes and compromising Medicare, and there's a bunch of tricks and gimmicks in the bill like--you've heard about AT&T, it's going to come up and bite the American people. So we're going to have a spirited civil contest on the size and shape of government, and health care will be center stage.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, despite what you say, is a campaign of repeal--you're a pragmatic legislator--is that realistic?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Only if you replace it. It is realistic to let the American people know the Class Act, which is a new entitlement where the government offers long-term healthcare insurance to the population, collects $78 billion in premiums to use to be paid for this bill. So when you--the money's spent to pay for the healthcare bill, and when you need your Class Act coverage, there's no money there. It is good to repeal the cuts in Medicare and to repeal the, the massive tax increases and replace it with opportunities to buy insurance in the private sector without cutting Medicare and raising taxes and using budget--Ponzi schemes like the Class Act. Yes, there's a way to do that. And 16 million people are dumped into Medicaid. My state is going to get killed by having to serve more Medicaid people; it's going to hurt state budgets. Finally, this fight won't wind up being just in Washington; it's going to spread to every statehouse in the nation, and we're going to have referendums on this bill through every statehouse in the nation. Can the states afford what Washington did to them?

MR. GREGORY: It is a, it is a big point. Let me break this down a little bit, now that we've kind of established some of the terrain, into some of the more specific costs and benefits. And let's, let's try to narrow this in our answers to, to these particular topics.

Here is the, the price of the bill, Senator Schumer: $938 billion over the course of 10 years. The big question that a lot of people have to ask is whether this really comes in with the price tag that the government says it will. And there are some nonpartisan deficit watchdog groups who have real questions about this, including the Concord Coalition that issued a statement last Sunday after the bill was passed, and I'll put it up on the screen. "Even if everything goes according to plan, the promised deficit reduction will be quite modest compared to the trillions of dollars that current projections indicate the country will add to its debt in the coming decade. Political leaders will still need to look for large amounts of additional savings and revenue - both in the healthcare system and elsewhere. Moreover, they will have to do so with much of the potential savings having already been claimed for the expanded coverage in the new legislation.

"This is not the end of the cost control fight. It is a very tentative beginning." Bottom line, Senator Schumer, you're covering 30 million additional people. How do you do that without busting the budget in a, in a final analysis?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, you know, the CBO is very conservative, they don't give benefit to things that will happen. For instance, if you pay for preventing diabetes today and then you don't have to do a major operation on someone because they're in the final stages of diabetes 10 years from now--CBO doesn't give you that benefit. So I think, if anything, they underestimate the savings, and they say $130 billion in savings the first 10 years and then, when the bill really kicks in, a trillion. Look, David, everyone knows our healthcare system is very wasteful. It delivers good health care for most people, but one-third of all dollars don't go to health care. It's the most inefficient system we have. And, and with doing nothing, the price keeps going up 10, 12 percent a year. Without this bill, Medicare would have gone broke in seven years.

MR. GREGORY: But, but Senator Schumer...

SEN. SCHUMER: Now people say, now people say it's, it's, it's 12 more--it has 12 more years of life. So I think you're going to find--this is the first attempt in the history of health care to get at the waste, the fraud, the abuse, the duplication. Everyone's experienced it, you're on a gurney, they say, "Oh, there's Dr. Wilson." He waves, and then you look at the bill and he's--they've charged $4,000 for him, and you don't know what he did. That kind of stuff has to go.

MR. GREGORY: I know that. But my question has to do with...

SEN. SCHUMER: We're attempting to do it.

MR. GREGORY: ...whether this is a realistic time, all right? It's easy to say, "Yeah, 10 years down the road we're going to have deficit reduction." But the truth is, a future Congress--not until 2018 is Congress going to actually raise taxes on these gold-plated plans to raise some of the money for this. You really think Congress is going to have courage down the line that it didn't have this year?

SEN. SCHUMER: You bet. And that's why it's been crafted the way it is, to be realistic. But some of the cost-cutting will go into effect right away. Everyone knows the waste, the fraud, the abuse, the duplication in the system. The answer on the other side is do nothing, repeal it. We have to get a handle on costs. And for me, at least, the number one rationale for this bill--I think it's important to cover people--but the most important thing to do is get a handle on the costs that are out of control, that are killing business, killing individuals, and killing our federal deficit. Does this do everything in that regard? No. Is it the first major step to do it in a very large way? You bet. And in the second 10 years, when it really bites, because you can't do all this overnight...

MR. GREGORY: OK.

SEN. SCHUMER: ...they predict a trillion dollars in savings.

SEN. GRAHAM: Hello? I can't hear. I lost him.

MR. GREGORY: Senator, Senator...

SEN. SCHUMER: The biggest savings that we've ever seen in any federal program.

MR. GREGORY: OK.

SEN. GRAHAM: I lost him.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham I think has some difficulty hearing us.

SEN. GRAHAM: I disagree with Chuck, in case you didn't hear me.

MR. GREGORY: OK, consider--Senator Graham, if you can hear us now...

SEN. GRAHAM: Can't hear a word.

MR. GREGORY: ...what is your response? He still, he still can't hear us.

Let me move on to another issue, and we'll get Senator Graham back in here in just a minute.

Senator Schumer, you wrote a book a few years back in 2007, and this is what it was called, "Positively American: Winning Back the Middle-Class Majority One Family at a Time." The chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has said this will be a middle-class tax--excuse me, a middle-class healthcare bill. And yet if you look at our polling, middle-income Americans who are asked about this healthcare bill are roundly opposed to it. Fifty-eight percent say this is not a good idea. How does this deliver, then, for the middle class?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, it really does deliver for the middle class. But, as I said, there are lots of, lots of misinformation. That firefighter in Rockville Centre, and you could repeat that with tens of millions of families, are worried. People ask themselves, particularly at a time of recession, "How is it going to affect me?" They've been told by special interests that are against the bill that they will lose their coverage. People who have coverage now, whether through an employer or Medicare, will keep it and it will get better, actually, because the waste and the duplication will, will be cut back greatly. They'll keep it longer, they'll keep it better, they'll pay less. So this is a bill aimed at the middle class. And my point being, if you look at a snapshot poll today, some of them show--there was one that was 49-40 in favor of health care, this one's against it. But I would predict to you, and I feel very, very strongly about this and firmly about this, that as people learn what's actually in the bill, that six months from now, by election time, this is going to be a plus because the parade of horribles, particularly the worry that the average middle-class person has that this is going to affect them negatively...

MR. GREGORY: OK.

SEN. SCHUMER: ...will have vanished, and they'll see that it'll affect them positively in many ways, some of which I mentioned.

MR. GREGORY: Let me get Senator Graham back in here. The, the question, before we, we lost your ability to communicate with you...

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...was whether this is really going to come in at cost.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, no, it's a giant Ponzi scheme. Let's look at the claim that it saves $138 billion in terms of reducing the deficit. If you assume paying a doctor is part of health care, there's nothing in this bill for the doctor fix. Next week or two weeks from now, we will try to forgive cuts to doctors. Over the next 10 years, doctors are supposed to be cut by $21 billion.

Can you hear me? Hello.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah, hear you fine. Hear you fine.

SEN. GRAHAM: Hello?

MR. GREGORY: Continue--OK, we've lost Senator, Senator Graham again.

SEN. SCHUMER: Hey, I like the show this way.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah, right.

SEN. SCHUMER: It's pretty good.

MR. GREGORY: These things happen from time to time. But he, he's, he's still making a point about the cost issue not coming in, that ultimately future Congresses, like with the doctor fix...

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...are going to keep restoring payments to doctors when--in order to meet the budget of this plan. You know, you're not going--you're going to have to do that over time.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, let me, let me say this. There are many doctors who--most do a very good job. There are a number, maybe 10 percent, who spend all their time maximizing income. Right now as we speak, there's some salesman talking to a doctor and saying, "Hey, if you buy this machine for a million dollars, my company'll finance it. We'll then show you how to fill it up 100 percent of the time with patients and you'll make $200,000 more a year," and even though there's another machine a couple of miles away and the machine's not needed. Right now there's no check on that kind of waste. Our bill does it. Doctors who go overboard and provide tons of quantity and no quality will be disciplined here. Again, CBO is bipartisan, everyone goes by its estimates and it's known to be conservative. It's driven us nuts, because we think there are many more savings in the bill that they didn't score. But even taking them at their face, $138 billion these 10 years, that's a lot of savings.

MR. GREGORY: All right, let me get Senator...

SEN. SCHUMER: A trillion next year...

MR. GREGORY: All right, Senator Schumer...

SEN. SCHUMER: ...that's a lot of savings.

MR. GREGORY: ...let me get Senator Graham in here.

Senator Graham, if you can hear us now, I promise Schumer is not...

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I can. Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...playing with the, the, the cables here.

SEN. GRAHAM: No.

MR. GREGORY: But you, you have the floor here. You know what some of the discussion has been. What is your view?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I do, I do. Well, there's a reason no Republican voted for this thing. It's not that we don't care about people and we don't want to lower costs. This lost its focus. It got to--there's a noble effort started by the president, then it got to be, "I got to pass the bill because my presidency's at stake." This idea it reduces the deficit is a flat-out lie. You don't include the money we're going to spend to fix the doctor problem, which is $200 billion. So they took it out of the healthcare bill and put it in the, in the jobs bill to make it look like it cuts the deficit. If you add the money we're all going to spend to help doctors not get cuts, that wipes out the deficit.

You spend Medicare money twice. You take $570 billion out of Medicare to pay for the healthcare bill, then you're using that same $570 to say it lowers the growth of Medicare over time. It's a giant Ponzi scheme. You create a new entitlement called the Class Act where you sell long-term health insurance to the public. You take the premiums and you don't keep them in the system, you pay for this healthcare bill. Where does the money come from when they need the health care? So it's a house of cards. It is a Ponzi scheme of the first order. It's going to blow up the deficit. It's going to affect every business, every family in this country. It was done by one-party rule, and it was an--it was a shame we had to go down this road, and there will be a contest in this country. President Obama ran as a centrist. He's governed from the left ditch in a right of center nation, and it's just not health care. It's taking over General Motors, it's the stimulus bill that's just completely out of control. And now taking over student loans. I look forward to a contest in November about whether this healthcare bill is a real fix or a phony political document trying to...

MR. GREGORY: Can I...

SEN. GRAHAM: ...grow the government. And I think...

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, let me...

SEN. GRAHAM: ...that's what it is.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, let me, let me stay with you on the tone of the debate and then look a little bit forward about the rest of the president's agenda.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke this week after we had seen instances of some violence or attacks on offices of members of Congress, nasty phone messages and all the rest. And this is what she said on Thursday.

(Videotape, Thursday)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I believe that words have power. They weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people in--depending on their, shall we say, emotional state. And we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: When you hear from conservatives--whether they be popular politicians outside of office, party officials, members of Congress--describe healthcare reform as socialism, an attack on freedom, ushering in totalitarianism, does that contribute to an atmosphere where opponents can go too far?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, in my view, I think attacking this bill in terms of expanding government beyond anybody's imagination, where 80 percent of the country at the end of the day will be covered by a healthcare bill that is not paid for, that can never be paid for, is a legitimate debate. But when you use the N word and when you question somebody's patriotism, you're off base. President Obama is a fine man. He's a good father, he's a good role model. He's an American liberal. The reason I don't say he's a socialist, because most people associate that with being un-American. He is an American just as much as anybody else. The idea that he's very liberal I think is pretty clear to the American people. He ran as a centrist, he's governing from the left ditch, that's his big problem. And we don't need to call each other names.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEN. GRAHAM: Chuck Schumer and I come from very different backgrounds, and we're going to work together to do some hard things. So let's focus civilly on the major differences of the role of government in our lives and what's honest and what's not, and, and impart the rhetoric in a personal way.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, have opponents gone too far?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, obviously there are some people way off the deep end, but you don't condemn a whole group or a whole movement for the outliers. You just ask the people who are responsible--left, right and center, Democrat and Republican--to condemn the bad words, the condemn the violence. That's been done. I've heard even the head of some of the tea party people condemn the violence. So I agree with Lindsey, I'm raring to go for a debate on the merits, because I think we win that debate and we don't need the distractions.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about the rest of the agenda, then, when it comes to...

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...immigration reform, where you two have come together to, to seek out a path toward immigration reform; or whether it's climate change, financial regulation and all the rest. There's real questions about whether there has been a poisoning of the well here, Senator Graham. Your friend Senator McCain said there will be no more cooperation with Democrats in the White House this year. And this is what the New York Daily News wrote in an op-ed this week as well. "Senator Lindsey Graham, long been a thoughtful and constructive legislator. But the South Carolina Republican made a statement last week that showed why Washington is losing the public's trust and his party in particular is losing its sense of duty.

"Graham had joined with Senator Schumer to present a well-reasoned outline for immigration reform. Then Graham threatened to walk away from his own proposal. `If the healthcare bill goes through this weekend, that will, in my view, pretty much kill any chance of immigration reform passing the Senate this year.'"

What do you say?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I'm just being honest. I'm going to work with Chuck Schumer to come up with legislation to control China's manipulation of their currency. I will keep working with Chuck on immigration. But here's the effect, immigration's tough. You don't have to ask anybody other than me to tell you that. It is a tough heavy lift. The president promised to pass an immigration reform bill in his first year. They've done almost nothing in the White, White House on immigration. We've been absorbed by health care. People are risk averse. If a moderate Democrat got a phone call from the president, he wants you to come down to the White House and help him with immigration now, most of them would jump out the window. That's just the truth. I will continue to work with Chuck, but immigration is a heavy lift. We haven't done the things necessary to bring the body together, and 16 Democrats voted against immigration reform. This idea that I would be the 60th vote on immigration, climate change could not be further from the truth. Tough sledding lies ahead because of the, the acrimony around health care. But on financial regulations we'll get a bill. I hope it's a good bill, not some liberal bill with a few, a few Republicans.

MR. GREGORY: Senator...

SEN. GRAHAM: I look forward to working with Chuck.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, is immigration reform dead then?

SEN. SCHUMER: I don't think so. First, let's look at how desperately we need it. Fifteen thousand people cross our border illegally every day. Most of them take jobs from Americans. And yet, at the same time, there are certain people we need in this economy to help us grow, and we can't get them--engineers, doctors, farm workers. So the system is broken--it lets the wrong people in, excludes the wrong people--and so we need to fix it.

Now, Lindsey and I have worked for a year. We've put out a framework that goes by what we think most Americans believe. Most Americans are anti illegal immigration and pro legal immigration. And we're real close. We're real close.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

SEN. SCHUMER: We do need a second Republican to come on the bill, and Lindsey, to his credit, and he's got a lot a courage to step forward here, I salute him, has always said we need that. But I would plead with him, if we can get that second Republican, we have business and labor ready to sign on. We have all the religious community, not just the liberals but the evangelicals. We even have Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly saying positive things about our proposal. I would urge that we try to get this done...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: ...because it's so important for America.

SEN. GRAHAM: If I...

MR. GREGORY: Quickly, Senator.

SEN. GRAHAM: If I could say something. I urge, I urge the president to write a bill and see if he can get another Republican, see if he can convince the 16 Democrats who voted no last time.

SEN. SCHUMER: Oh, he will.

SEN. GRAHAM: Let him do some heavy lifting here on immigration.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: When the president...

SEN. GRAHAM: Write a bill and send it to me.

SEN. SCHUMER: The president will.

SEN. GRAHAM: I'd be glad to look at it.

MR. GREGORY: I'm going to make that the last word.

SEN. SCHUMER: The president supported our framework, and he'll be right up front in helping us. We just...

SEN. GRAHAM: Good.

SEN. SCHUMER: We just need to move forward.

MR. GREGORY: Before I let you go, Senator Graham...

SEN. GRAHAM: Look forward to it.

MR. GREGORY: ...are you concerned about these recess appointments from President Obama?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes. It's going to make problems worse.

MR. GREGORY: How so?

SEN. SCHUMER: Can I say something?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, Becker is, Becker is a guy...

SEN. SCHUMER: All right.

SEN. GRAHAM: ...who wants card check by regulation, and, at the end of the day, they're really pushing forward here rather than trying to bring this together. Financial regulation has some bipartisan hope. I hope we'll seize the moment there and try to get a bipartisan financial regulation bill.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer?

SEN. SCHUMER: Let me just say this, David, about recess appointments. They're holding up 77 people. The head of the TSA, we need that, some people in, in, in the Defense Department and the Treasury Department, 77 people. And so we have no choice but to do recess appointments. If we spent a week on each of these people they're holding up, and many of them get voted on 99 to nothing after they hold them up, we'd do nothing else.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: George Bush did more recess appointments in, at this point, than President Obama has done. Reagan has done them. Clinton has done them. If they'd let us vote on these people, we wouldn't have to do the recess appointments.

MR. GREGORY: I'm going to, I'm going to...

SEN. SCHUMER: But they don't.

MR. GREGORY: I'm going to leave it there. Senator Schumer, Senator Graham, all of this to be continued. Thank you both very much.

SEN. SCHUMER: Hi, Lindsey. Bye, Lindsey.