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MSNBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript: Health Care, Budget, and Iran Sanctions

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GREGORY: That's a great setup because we're going to talk about the economy, we'll come back. We'll talk more about Obamacare. I want to bring in two voices in this fight. Joining me now is Senator Charles Schumer from New York, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma. Happy holidays to you both and welcome. Senator Schumer, here was the Wall Street Journal editorial this week and it read with this headline--"Obama repeals Obamacare. Under pressure from Senate Democrats, the president partly suspends the individual mandate. Obama's make-it-up-as-he-goes improvisation will continue because the law is failing." True or false?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-New York/Finance Committee): False. I think what most Americans want us to do is not repeal Obamacare, which is what our Republican colleagues are focused on, but fix it. The president is working to fix it, we are working in the Senate to fix it, we urge our Republican colleagues to join us in fixing it. The bottom line is there are a lot of good things in Obamacare that people like and the more people see that, the more positive it's going to be. And I would just say one other thing with all the focus on Obamacare, David. The number one issue in the 2014 election is not going to be Obamacare or the deficit. It is going to be who can get the middle class going again. Who can expand middle class incomes, who can create jobs? That is far and away the issue…

GREGORY: All right. So…

SEN. SCHUMER: …that most Americans care about.

GREGORY: Fair enough. That's going to be the argument. But Senator Coburn, you know your colleagues, especially those who are running for tough seats in the south, they're going to make Obamacare an issue and they're going to focus on the fact that the government seems to make changes to pacify critics. Is that the wrong thing to do?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OKAY/Ranking Member, Homeland Security Committee/Intelligence Committee): Well, I think they ought to talk about health care and-- and what we're for rather than continuing to talk about what we're against. Look, Obamacare right now causes people to spend more money, have less choice, have a higher deductible and have less freedom. The rollout and the ideas behind the fact that the federal government could manage appropriately, one-sixth of the economy is-- is proving itself erroneous. What I would-- what I would say is we need to change health care, but what they've done-- you can't fix this mess. The-- the insurance industry, the indemnification industry, regardless of what you think about the insurance companies, it is on its ear now. And the fact that they granted people a hardship exemption…

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. COBURN: …everybody who signed up that had a high deductible policy should go and cancel today and ask for what…

GREGORY: So that's-- and that's the-- the exception…

SEN. COBURN: …is being granted to those people who have it.

GREGORY: I want to focus on that, Senator Schumer, because that's the issue. All these exceptions-- I'm looking at a lists here of a mandate delay for those losing insurance, what you were just talking about, that you have this small business exchange site delayed a year. A large employer mandate was delayed until 2015. Does the individual mandate survive? That is the one thing that makes health care go because you make younger, healthier people buy insurance to pay for older, sicker people.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, I think it does. And let's not forget all the good things that are happening. If you have a child with cancer, you couldn't get insurance because of preexisting condition. What agony. Now it-- it is there. And if you repeal the individual mandate altogether that would no longer exist. And as I said, as we move on here into 2014, I'm finding in New York, our exchange is working. We have competition on it. The website is good. People are saying, wow, I am getting better care at a lower cost. I think that's going to presage what's happening throughout the country. There have been a lot of glitches. There have been a lot of problems, but they're getting fixed. And six months from now, many more people are going to see the positives rather than the negatives.

GREGORY: All right. That's-- that's the marker. Senator Coburn, let's talk about the budget deal--a small budget deal that has been passed--a glimmer of hope on Capitol Hill for some bipartisan consensus. But here's the bottom line. They didn't take on the hard stuff; including, we welcome in 2014, and these tough issues smack us in the face; including the debt ceiling that has to be raised come February or March. Are Republicans are going to-- are they going to demand concessions before raising the debt ceiling?

SEN. COBURN: Well, you know, I-- I guess I can't really speak for Republicans. My thoughts are if the American people don't believe we have a debt ceiling because we always increase it, and they don't believe we have the discipline in Washington. The-- the-- there is a positive out of what happened last week, is, yeah, we-- we can come together and agree. What, David, I would say to you is the reason we're in trouble on deficits and debts is not because we didn't agree but because we did. We agreed to spend 740 billion dollars we didn't have last year. We agreed to waste 30 billion dollars as I put out the waste book this year. We agreed to continue to let Medicare have 80 billion dollars a year in fraud in it. We're going to have 80 billion dollars a year in fraud in Obamacare. We agreed to all those things. So the-- the story coming out of Washington is that we don't get along, I would dispute that. We get along just fine with the status quo of the government being ineffective and inefficient. So we pass a bill that raises spending and raises taxes and denies what we promised the American people, and everybody says, oh, my goodness, how great. You grew the government some more and you charged us more taxes and you didn't fix any of the problems.

GREGORY: So Senator Schumer, address the debt ceiling. It's not been addressed…

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes.

GREGORY: …in this budget deal. Do you-- do you imagine another fight on this?

SEN. SCHUMER: No. I would predict that Republicans will back off any hostage taking, adding extraneous, irrelevant issues to the debt ceiling. They learned in October that if they followed the Tea Party and said we're going to let the government default unless we get our way, it was highly unpopular. I understand there is some saber-rattling right now by Speaker Boehner and majority leader McCo-- mi-- minority leader McConnell. And that's natural. They cut a good deal, I thought, on the budget, and they had to show the hard right that they're going to do something else. But at the end of the day, the president is going to hold firm, no negotiations on debt ceiling…

GREGORY: Okay.

SEN. SCHUMER: …Republicans will look…

GREGORY: So…

SEN. SCHUMER: …back to October and say, we're not going through this again.

GREGORY: So here's a question about holding firm that some of the papers in New York are asking about you, and the topic is Iran and new sanctions on Iran. You and others are pushing for it. The president was asked about it in his press conference and he said, look, don't do it, Senator Schumer. He didn't call you out by name, but in effect he did. He said he knows that it's good politics, that for you in office, for those running for office that you can look tough on Iran. He's basically saying, give me room to negotiate with Iran and see if I can shut down this nuclear program. Back off on sanctions for now. How do you respond?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, look, there are many of us, Democrats and Republicans, in this Senate who believe the best way to avoid war and get around to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them. The Iranians didn't come to the table out of the goodness of their heart. This administration still labels them a terrorist organization--the supreme leader Khomeini is still pulling the strings. And only tough sanctions will get them to give up. Now, look, I give the president credit for talking. I don't agree with some on the hard line who say no talking until they give up everything. But the bottom line is very simple. It's pretty logical that it's sanctions, tough sanctions that brought them to the table. If they think they can ease up on the sanctions without getting rid of their nuclear capabilities, they're-- they're going to do that. So we have to be tough. And the legislation we put in says to the Iranians, if you don't come to an agreement after six months and the president can extend it to a year, the sanctions are going to toughen up.

GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: I think that will make them negotiate better and give up more.

GREGORY: All right, I'm going to make that the last word. Senator Schumer and Coburn, happy holidays to you both.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you.

GREGORY: Thank you for your time this morning.

SEN. SCHUMER: To you and yours.

SEN. COBURN: Merry Christmas.

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