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MSNBC "Interview With Senator Lindsey Graham" - Transcript


Location: Washington, DC

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MS. MITCHELL: The biggest question many are asking on healthcare reform is how to pay for it. The president's budget plan, which set up $634 billion fund over the next ten years plans to sponsor the overhaul with two main sources of revenue, the first, tax hikes for families earning more than $250,000 a year, the second, charging wealthy Medicare recipients more for their coverage.

Joining us now live from Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, who sits on the Budget Committee and he's going to have to partially deal with all of this.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.

MS. MITCHELL: First of all, is this the right time? Is this the right issue? And what about the ways that the White House is talking about saving money, cuts, increasing taxes or means testing?


MS. MITCHELL: On Medicare recipients to pay for it.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I agree with the means testing. I think -- my premium for a Medicare supplement, my payment when I retire should be higher than, quite frankly, low income Americans on Medicare. It's about 46 bucks a month. I can't remember the number. But yeah, I don't mind paying more. I think that's a good way to get new revenue.

If we raise taxes on any business or any family right now to pay for healthcare or any other item, we're going to make the recession deeper and longer. So I totally disagree with that. That is not a good way to finance it, and by the way, here's the big picture. We spend twice in America on healthcare what most industrialized nations in Western Europe spend per capita. Maybe it's not the amount of money -- maybe we don't need more money, maybe we just need to spend it better to get it to people in a more efficient way.

MS. MITCHELL: Well, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Senator, 49 percent of those polled say that they are willing to pay higher taxes to ensure healthcare for all, not willing to pay, 45 percent, so it's pretty much an even split.


MS. MITCHELL: Back in 1993 when we were first talking about healthcare under President Clinton, 52 percent rather in 1993 were willing to pay, 41 percent not willing to pay.

How do you build a consensus of people willing to pay more for healthcare?

SEN. GRAHAM: Number one, about 40 percent of Americans don't pay any more income tax. So the number of people paying taxes is shrinking, not getting larger. Are you willing to pay more to make Social Security solvent? I am. Am I willing to raise the cap on income subject to Social Security taxation to make it solvent and keep it from going bankrupt? I will. Will I be willing to pay more Medicare premiums when I retire than the current system to help the system? Yes, I will. But there will be a point in time to where we're going to drive people offshore out of this country, businesses and individuals only can pay so much. The top five percent of income earners are paying 60 percent of the taxes.

So every time there's a problem in America, we cannot just raise taxes and answer that problem.

MS. MITCHELL: And we're looking at live pictures right now, Senator Arlen Specter one of the three Republicans who went along with the president on the stimulus package and also someone who has had his own healthcare battles, battling brain cancer, battling so many things.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right, he sure has. He's been a real hero.

MS. MITCHELL: And he put $10 billion for NIH back into the budget, which some people call an earmark, some people call it pork, but he says it's absolutely necessary.


MS. MITCHELL: I mean, everybody has got their own stake in this game.

SEN. GRAHAM: Exactly. Exactly.

MS. MITCHELL: And how do we avoid getting stuck the way we did back in 1993? I know the White House wants to avoid that; they're not being explicit. They want to be more in a listening mode and let Congress write the bill. They're trying to be more open, more transparent than Hillary Clinton was back then and this president is trying to move more quickly on it than President Clinton did. He waited a full year before actually proposing something.

Is that the right move?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think it's good to listen. I think it's good to get buy in before you move and to treat Congress as an equal partner. You need to get businesses. The people are going to have to pay for any increase in healthcare costs. If it's not individuals, it's going to be businesses.

We should have a system where we don't build it around the 47 million that are uninsured. We should make sure they have a place to go to get healthcare that's affordable and accessible. We should not abandon the private sector and turn our healthcare destiny over to the government because when you do that, you're going to start rationing healthcare.

So how about cost containment? How about looking at ways to control medical inflation? There's a lot of common ground here. Means testing on Medicare premiums is a revenue move that I would support.

So there is some common ground here. We're just going to have to be, I think, if you do it too quickly, you're going to lose consensus. It's easier in Washington to say no on both sides of the aisle to a big idea than it is to say yes. I think the goal of the president is to make it harder to say no for both Democrats and Republicans.

MS. MITCHELL: Lindsey Graham, a key figure in this debate and as you've been talking, the president has entered, Melody Barnes, the domestic policy adviser is now introducing him.

Thank you so much, Senator and we'll now listen to Melody Barnes introducing the president and the president who will be convening this healthcare summit.

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