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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcripts

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

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BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much for that.

Let's get back to the big story here in the United States today, this historic health care summit here in the United States. What if anything was accomplished? You saw it live unfolding here on CNN. We heard earlier from the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.

Let's get Republican reaction now from a leader who was in that room, the minority whip, the number-two Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

What, if anything, was accomplished today?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Well, Wolf, we certainly saw the differences between the two sides put on display.

We -- we came to talk to the president because Republicans do care about people's health care and we put out, you know, our ideas once again.

And, you know, there were some points in which we could maybe see some agreement. But fundamentally, there's a real difference. We don't care for his bill. And we said over and again, Mr. President, if we want to make some progress, please set aside that bill and then let us try and effect positive reform for the American people.

BLITZER: But you heard the president say he's not ready to do that, he's not ready to write new legislation and scrap what has already been passed in the House and Senate. And he basically said, you know what, Republicans, you have maybe three, four, fix, six weeks to basically reach an agreement with us on this. Otherwise, he's going the other -- the other route, which would be a simple majority in the Senate, a simple majority in the House and trying to get it passed that way.

CANTOR: Well, Wolf, if -- if that's the direction that's he's headed, then, really, if you're talking about winners and losers today, then the American people are going to lose, because this bill is not good for the American people or their health care.

This bill is a trillion dollar bill. It raises $500 billion in taxes, imposes mandates on small businesses and working families and, frankly, doesn't reform health care. It doesn't even bend the health care costs for this country.

BLITZER: Because he said he would work with you on medical malpractice, on tort reform, as it's called, work on, perhaps, interstate competition for health insurance companies.

But when it comes to the fundamental need to insure 30 million more Americans, on that, he doesn't a whole lot of bail -- a whole lot of opportunity for compromise.

CANTOR: Well -- well the difference is, Wolf, we believe we get more people access to health care by lowering costs. And we believe we ought to focus on that and make sure that people are able to keep the health care they have, whereas the president fundamentally believes that if you have the government here in Washington begin to prescribe what people's health care should look like, then -- and then require everyone to purchase those kind of policies, that it will lead to a better health care system.

We just fundamentally disagree. That's why we're asking the president to set aside his bill.

BLITZER: The -- the president and other Democrats have made the point that when the Republicans were in the majority in Congress and the Senate, when there was a Republican in the White House, they used the so-called reconciliation process -- a simple majority, 51 votes in the Senate -- to avoid the filibuster and to get major legislation passed, including huge tax cuts, expansion of Medicare prescription drug benefits, the welfare reform back in the '90s.

Why can't the Democrats do that now?

CANTOR: Well, if they do, certainly, Wolf, they could try and do that. I think they would do so at their political peril. And, really, the losers are going to be the American people. But you also have to look at the fact that right now, Speaker Pelosi does not have the votes in the House to pass this bill.

The reason is, Wolf, because the American people don't want this bill and the moderates in the House are looking at this, scratching their heads wondering why in the world they would want to vote for something their constituents don't want. And in truth, they're -- the bipartisanship surrounding this bill is in opposition to it.

BLITZER: Did you think the Republicans got a fair shake in this seven hours or six hours of -- of talks at the Blair House summit today?

CANTOR: Yes, I think that there was an adequate airing of views on both sides. People across the country that may have been watching some of this, I believe, did get the sense of where the two parties are coming from on this.

But I'm hopeful, maybe, that the president will take the message from the American people to set this bill aside and allow us to come together in a very much more modest, incremental way to put some common sense reforms to work to lower costs so we can increase the access and maintain the quality of care that the American people have become accustomed to.

BLITZER: In making the case for comprehensive health insurance reform, he said baby steps don't take you where you need to go. So he was pretty flat, pretty firm on that issue, rejecting that step by step approach. He wants to go for the comprehensive agreement.

CANTOR: Again, you know, I -- I don't -- I don't fault him for his vision. The problem is his -- the plan to get there will ruin the health care system that we know. We can't afford it.

We've got to do some things first to fix the problems in the system that we've go, so that we can allow the folks -- the 85 percent of Americans who have insurance to keep that insurance and then lower costs, increase choices so that more people can have access to quality care.

BLITZER: Congressman Eric Cantor is the number-two Republican in the House.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

CANTOR: Wolf, thank you.

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