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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript: ACA and Government Shutdown

Interview

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Joining me here in the studio, the Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. You're the man in the middle of this whole fight. So here are the stakes: "De-fund or delay," say you and other Republicans. President says, "No way. This law is moving forward." Are you in control of what happens next?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Look, at the end of the day, every Senator has to decide how he or she is going to vote. Every representative has decided how he or she is going to vote. The House last night, at 12:30 in the morning, voted to keep the government open, to fully fund the government. But at the same time, the House responded to the millions of Americans who are hurting under Obama Care. And I think the Senate needs to do the same thing.

DAVID GREGORY:
You keep saying that the Senate and the House should listen to the American people. I looked at polling this week that shows, in a lot of quarters, the bill is unpopular, the law is unpopular. 56% want to uphold this law. So when you say, "Listen to the American people," they're not necessarily with you.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Well, look at the phrasing of that. "Uphold this law?" I promise you, if you do any poll on, "Do you want to uphold this law," the answer is always yes.

DAVID GREGORY:
So it's just polling methodology?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Look, there are a lot of polls that are done for advocacy purposes. I promise you, any single Senator who goes home to his or her state, any representative that goes home to his or her state, and you hold a Town Hall, and you just ask people, "What are you facing?" I mean I've spent hundreds of hours cris-crossing the state of Texas, traveling nationally. And people all over the country, they're losing their jobs, they're being forced into part-time work, they're facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums, and they're losing their health insurance.

DAVID GREGORY:
We'll get into some of the particulars of Obamacare, because obviously, there's more to that story that advocates would argue. But let's just stick with the here and now. So how does this end? Because, as I understand it, you would only support de-funding of Obamacare. A delay, for you, is not enough.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Well, let's talk about the next steps. The next step is the Senate needs to act. And right now, the Senate's on recess. In my view, Harry Reed should call the Senate back in today. We have a bill in front of us. There's a government shutdown in 48 hours.

Listen, I would love to be back in Houston with my two little girls, playing with them this afternoon. As you know, I am here in Washington D.C. because I want to be here and ready to work. And there's no reason the Senate should be home on vacation at a time such as this.

DAVID GREGORY:
You know, the Senate has acted, the Majority Leader will say, passed a bill to keep the government open, and now we've gone back to trying to delay or de-fund Obamacare. So the Senate is saying, "We're not going to take this up." Should they take up part of it? Should there be votes? Would you filibuster this bill?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Well, let's be clear what the Senate has done. So far, Majority Leader Harry Reed has essentially told the House of Representatives and the American people, "Go jump in a lake." He said, "I'm not willing to compromise, I'm not willing to even talk."

His position is 100% of Obamacare must be funded in all instances, and, other than that, he's going to shut the government down. Now David, I hope he doesn't do that. If Harry Reed forces a government shutdown, that will be a mistake. I hope he backs away from that ledge that he's pushing us towards. But that is his position.

DAVID GREGORY:
But Senator, even Republicans that I've spoken to, your colleagues, say, "Senator Cruz can't blame Harry Reed for shutting down the government. Senator Reed acted. He passed a bill to keep the government open."

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
But let's be clear. The House has twice--

DAVID GREGORY:
Right.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
--now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because, when the Senate comes back, Harry Reed says, "I refuse even to talk." And let's be clear, also. President Obama has granted a delay for giant corporations. Every big company in America has gotten a one-year delay.

If Harry Reed shuts the government down, what he will be saying is, "American families don't get treated as well as we treat giant corporations." Giant corporations get-- don't have to suffer, get a delay on the horns from Obamacare. But hardworking American families, he's going to insist that they suffer now.

DAVID GREGORY:
It's interesting. Democrats say, "You know, the problem with Senator Cruz's position is that it's a purist position." There are problems with Obamacare. The White House admits that. We talked about polling in some quarters indicating great dissatisfaction with the law, as you're talking about in Town Hall meetings. But you have to engaged in a debate about how they change the law. What you've gone out and said is, "Let's kill the law all together. Let's de-fund it."

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Actually, with respect, David, I think the premise of your question is wrong. It is the Democrats who have taken the absolutist position. Look, I've engaged-- I'd like to repeal every word of the law. But that wasn't my position, even in this fight.

My position in this fight was we should de-fund it, which is different from repeal. And even now what the House of Representatives has done is a step removed from de-funding. It's delaying it. Now that's the essence of a compromise. For all of us who want to see it repealed, simply delaying it for American families on the same terms as is being done for big corporations, that's a compromise.

DAVID GREGORY:
But here--

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
And at the same time, David, on the other side, what have the Democrats compromised on? Nothing. Zero.

DAVID GREGORY:
So here's the thing, Senator.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Their position is, "Absolutely no, no matter what." How is that compromise?

DAVID GREGORY:
You make this argument as if there's no broader context here. Obamacare has been legislated. It has been adjudicated. And it has been tested to the political system. And so let's go through that. We had an election where I heard the standard bearer for the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, say Obamacare should be repealed.

All the Republicans already voted against this thing when it was ultimately passed. The Supreme Court upheld it. And then this summer, you and your colleagues said, "Look, let's have a strategy here of de-funding Obamacare," and you had people who signed a letter. And they said they joined you in that fight.

Well, here you are now, you don't even have the same number of folks who signed the letter who voted with you in this effort. There are not protests in the streets arguing to do away with this law in the way that you'd like. Again, 56%, in one poll of this week, New York Times (UNINTEL) said, "Let's uphold the law." So I'm focusing on results. Your goal and results. Where have you moved anything?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Okay, look. The facts are becoming more and more clear that Obamacare isn't working. Every day, that's becoming more clear. There's a reason the unions are jumping ship. One union after another is saying, "Let me out." There's a reason why James Hoffa, the president of The Teamsters, said that he was writing on behalf of millions of working men and women, and he used "millions," not hundreds, not thousands.

And he said Obamacare was destroying their health care. "Destroying" is his word. Now why is it that Harry Reed and the Senate Democrats are not willing to listen to the millions of working men and women--

DAVID GREGORY:
But wait a second. But you're--

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
--whose health care is being destroyed?

DAVID GREGORY:
--you're (UNINTEL) the voyeur (?). You're making an argument. I asked you a specific question based on the facts on the ground. You've made all these arguments. My goodness, you went and spoke for 21 hours to make these arguments. You haven't moved anyone.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Oh, look. The American people overwhelming reject Obamacare. They understand it's not working. The only people who aren't listening to the argument are the career politicians in Washington. It's Harry Reed, who wants to use brute political force.

And the great thing about the constitution is that it creates a system of checks and balances. And each branch has the ability to check another. President Obama, sadly, in implementing Obamacare, has, over and over again, disregarded the law. When he granted an exemption for giant corporations, that was contrary to law. When he granted an exemption to members of Congress, that was contrary to law.

Right now, we have a system where the rich and powerful, those with connections to the Obama administration, they get spared some of the burdens of Obamacare. But those who are struggling: single moms and young people and people who are just trying to make it, they don't get--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
You're an opponent of the law. There is, of course, another side to this story, right? Millions of Americans are getting access to health care that they couldn't otherwise afford. Folks who have children, they can now be on it up to 26. Republicans agree with things like not having preexisting conditions, get in the way of getting insurance.

Utilization is down. I spoke to a hospital administrator in Illinois this week, quite skeptical of the law, who said, "Look, utilization is down. That could ultimately be helpful for health care costs." You can't know what the effect is five years on from this law. And nor can proponents of the law.
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But here's one argument. You've made yours. And the president, when he spoke this week, he actually referred to your words, and I want to play a portion of this, suggesting that what you really don't want to happen is for the law to go forward because then people would really start liking it. This is what he said.

(VIDEO NOT TRANSCRIBED)

DAVID GREGORY:
You don't think Americans will like it. You don't think that 25% of the state of Texas that's uninsured will actually like the expanded access to get health insurance?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
I don't. And here's why. Because it's not working. What's happening, if you want people to get health insurance, the best way for them to get health insurance is to get a job. And Obamacare's the biggest job killer in this country. If you look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce surveyed small businesses subject to the mandate. Half of them said that they were forcibly reducing people's hours to 29 hours a week or less, or hiring part-time workers. Another 24% said they weren't growing, to keep their size under 50 workers.

If you're a young person coming out of school right now, unable to find a job, a big part of the reason you're not able to find a job is because small businesses aren't growing because of Obamacare. And there's nothing that could give you better health insurance than having a vibrant economy where you can get a job.

Let's take, for example, the 15,000 workers at UPS, who, just a few weeks ago, received notice from their employer that spousal coverage was being dropped, that their husbands and wives were losing the health insurance that they're enjoying right now. Let's take the workers at Sea World, who were told, "We're forcibly reducing your hours to 28 hours a week because of Obamacare." This is happening all over the country, David. People are hurting because of this law.

DAVID GREGORY:
There are also benefit administrators, in my research, who indicate there-- that there is no real sign that employers would stop giving health insurance to their employees. It's a major recruitment took for how to get employees. And aspects of the law have been delayed so that it can work better. And perhaps these problems that you're identifying could be rectified, short of complete de-funding.

I want to go back to where we started for a moment, just to get you clear on this point. A government shutdown under these circumstances, because this doesn't sound like it will be resolved, that's an acceptable outcome to you?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Look, I don't want a government shutdown. I don't think Harry Reed should shut down the government. Let me make one point. The House of Representatives did something else terrific last night, which is they passed a bill to make clear that, regardless of what happens, the men and women of our military should be paid. And Harry Reed, I believe, should bring that up. That passed unanimously in the House.

And listen, right now, Harry Reed and President Obama have been essentially holding the military hostage, threatening their paychecks over this potential shutdown. They might force-- I think regardless of what happened, we should pass--

DAVID GREGORY:
But it is an acceptable outcome?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
--the bill-- no, of course it's not acceptable. We shouldn't have a shutdown, which means Harry Reed has to move off his absolutist position. His position-- I mean you've seen multiple compromises from the Republicans, and you've seen zero-- I mean--

DAVID GREGORY:
Right.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
--can you tell me any movement the Democrats have had whatsoever, David?

DAVID GREGORY:
But how does he move? What makes him move? What have you done to make him move, other than disrupt, your critics would say? Because as I outlined before, you lost ground from even this summer on the position of getting people to vote with you. You lost ground from that position. And you haven't persuaded one Democrat. You've got to have Democrats if you're going to overturn this thing.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Well actually, just this week, Joe Manchin came out, Democrat from West Virginia, and said he supported a delay in the individual mandate. And listen, last time this was in the Senate, it was unfortunate. We had division among Senate Republicans. I had hoped Senate Republicans would be united. That didn't happen. But I'll tell you this. I'm optimistic. This next time around, this is an opportunity for Senate Republicans to come--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
You campaigned on this.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
I believe--

DAVID GREGORY:
You've raised money on this. You've taken to the floor for 21 hours. You haven't moved anything legislatively. Do you concede that point?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
I don't remotely. And David, I recognize that the Washington establishment hasn't been convinced by the arguments, because the Washington establishment has been exempted from some of the harms. Members of Congress, how can you possibly justify to the American people that members of Congress are exempted from the law, aren't put on the exchanges, like millions of Americans?

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, they're part of the exchanges, they just get an employer contribution, like a lot of other people.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
But many of Americans don't. Millions of Americans--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
No, but 150 million Americans who get it from their employers do, don't they?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
But anyone on the exchanges doesn't get the employer mandate, except for members of Congress. And President Obama did that. I mean you want-- look, people are frustrated with Washington. And the simplest reason is you've got politicians in both parties who aren't listening to the people, and who are living by a different set of rules.

The ruling class gets exempted. So Harry Reed and the Senate Democrats came to President Obama and said, "We want out. We don't want under Obamacare,"-- you know, I had an exchange with Dick Durbin on the floor of the Senate where he described the Senate's health care is first class tickets. And he was arguing we should stick the American people in coach.

Now look, I think his own analogy shows what's wrong with this system. At a minimum, members of Congress shouldn't be treated better than the American people, and neither should Big Business. And if Harry Reed showed any modicum of being willing to compromise, he would agree to what the House has done to delay this all and say, "This isn't ready for primetime. It's not working. And we're going to treat the American at least as well as we treat Big Business."

DAVID GREGORY:
You're talking a lot about Democrats. They're critical of you. But it's hard for them to get a word in edgewise, because it's members of your own party who are so critical of what you've done and how you've done it. You have colleagues who have accused you of putting on a show. That was Senator Corker. Congressman Peter King said you're a fraud, that you're lying to the base, over-promising something that's possible.

George Will, who's been a conservative columnist for The Washington Post and others, has been very supportive of you in the past. But he wrote this, this week. I want to have you respond to it. Because it seems to crystallize some of the opposition. "Those people who are best at deceiving others first deceive themselves," he wrote. "They often do so by allowing their wishes to be fathers of their thoughts, and begin by wishing that everything has changed.

"Republicans now making a moral melodrama over any vote that allows the ACA to be funded should remember Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the leader of Senate Republicans during passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He recalled '40 preachers caught me one afternoon there in that lobby. "I am not a moralist," I told them. "I'm a legislator." It is good to be both. It is sterile to be the former to the exclusion of the latter.'" Are you more moralist than legislator?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Look, I'm just trying to fight for 26 million Texans and for the American people. And I'm pretty sure George Will, in that column, argued that what we should be doing is delaying Obamacare, which is exactly what the House of Representatives just voted to do.

And one important thing to emphasize, I mean you keep, and all of the voices of Washington keep saying, "We need compromise." Twice now Republicans in the House have compromised. And twice Harry Reed has said, "We won't even have a conversation. I refuse to compromise. We want to fund it all. We want to stick it on the American people. And we won't budge." That's not a reasonable position. And if we have a shutdown, it will be because Harry Reed holds that absolutist position, and essentially, holds the American people hostage.

DAVID GREGORY:
Who's the legislator you most admire? Who's your big role model?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
You know, I'll tell you. The Senator I most admire was former Texas Senator Phil Gramm. And it's actually a very good example, going back to, you know, there are voices who say this is impossible. And if you remember back in 1993, I know you do, when Hillarycare was being debated.

And when Hillarycare was being debated, there were a lot of Republicans who came forward with what I called at the time Hillarycare Light. "We'll partially socialize health care." And it was because Republicans were convinced, "We can't stop this." And then Phil Gramm strode out there, and he said, and I know you'll remember this, he said, "This will pass over my cold, dead, political body."

And a whole lot of Republicans who were scared, they looked over. He wasn't killed. They ran behind him, and they said, "Yeah, yeah, what he said." Look, the power of leadership can change debates. We saw that just a month ago with Syria. When President Obama said he was going to launch unilateral attacks on Syria, you had leaders of both houses of Congress support him. And then the American people spoke up in overwhelming numbers and said, "We don't want to get involved in a sectarian civil war in Syria where there's no clear U.S. national security benefit to doing so."

And what happened? The entire federal government turned. We didn't get involved. We didn't launch those attacks. And just weeks earlier, conventional wisdom in Washington said, "It's impossible."

DAVID GREGORY:
Do you regret comparing the future of Obamacare to the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Well, the premise of your question isn't true. I didn't make that comparison. What I said is that there have been many voices in Washington who've said, "We can't do this, we can't do this, we can't do this." And I went through the contracts where, over and over again, when facing big challenges, Americans have risen to the occasion, whether it was the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, whether it was going to the moon under John F. Kennedy, or whether it was winning the Cold War.

At every stage, there were voices of conventional wisdom who say, "This can't be done." And at every stage, the American people rose to the occasion. And what I said is, "We should do the same here." We should look to, if we empower the American people, if we get Washington to listen to the people, that's how we get this changed.

DAVID GREGORY:
Do you ride this to the presidential nomination?

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
(CHUCKLE) You know, it's easy for Washington to focus on politics. I understand. That's the business of this town. What I am trying to do every day is focus on making a difference in the lives of the American people. Every survey that's done in this country, the top priority of the American people is jobs and the economy.

Under Harry Reed's Senate, we don't even talk about jobs and the economy. Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country. And millions of Americans are hurting. You know, I'd like to see a Democrat respond to James Hoffa's letter that said, "This is right now destroying the health care of millions of Americans." That's not me, that's a Democrat union leader who has supported Harry Reed and President Obama. We need to be listening to the people, because people are hurting because of Obamacare.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, thank you for your views this morning. Thank you very much.

SENATOR TED CRUZ:
Thank you, David.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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