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Press Conference With Rep. Jim Cooper; Rep. Mike Castle; Rep. Parker Griffith; Rep. Jo Ann Emerson - The Need For Bipartisan Consensus On Health Care Reform


Location: Washington, DC

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REP. COOPER: Thanks for being here and sorry about all the crazy votes today. I'm Jim Cooper, from Nashville Tennessee, a Democrat.

And right off the bat, I want to be clear: I support health care reform. I support health care reform this year, as does everyone on this stage. We all share the goals laid out by the president, I think, in his June 2nd letter. I believe that every American should have high-quality, affordable health care, and I believe that reforming health care should be Congress's top priority.

Let me repeat that. Health care reform should be Congress's top priority. We should get it done this year. We are not here to slow it down. That's -- so don't believe the phony talking points that you're being circulated with that are saying we're trying to somehow slow down the process. That's not true. The process, unfortunately, is already creaking under its own weight, and we haven't even seen many of the bills yet. So don't take your -- my word for it; just read your own publications.

On the contrary, what we're trying to do is ensure that reform actually happens. We are here because we see health care reform bogging down in the Senate, and we're worried about the chance of achieving health care reform this year.

What's happening in the Senate worries me, because if reform does get bogged down then we'll have to go through the Senate's reconciliation process. And many people misunderstand this. The way reconciliation works, it only applies to a bill that reduces the federal budget deficit within the next five years and a bill that does not really reform the insurance for the medical sector. So essentially, reconciliation does not apply. Essentially, you need 60 votes in the Senate to pass a good health reform bill, not 51. That's a huge difference, and many publications have gotten this wrong.

So it's very clear that the target we should be aiming for is at least 60 votes in the Senate. When Tom Daschle was up for confirmation as secretary of HHS, he said we should aim for 70 or 80 votes. Well, 60 votes is the minimum we should be looking for, not 51.

There are many of my colleagues here to speak. It's a crazy day for voting, so I'm appreciative to each one of them for being here. But I think what we're trying to do is follow in the tradition that we saw yesterday, when former Senate majority leaders, Democrats and Republicans, joined together to put forward a bill that covers every American and that's affordable. Tom Daschle can do it; Bob Dole, Howard Baker can do it. We can do it as well.

So why don't I turn it over to my good friend and colleague, Mike Castle from Delaware.

REP. CASTLE: Thank you, Jim. And I'll try to be brief as well.

I -- first of all, I agree with Jim completely on the legality of the situation in the Senate. I think they are going to need 60 votes. That automatically means it's going to have to be a bipartisan piece of legislation. But that is exactly what the American people want.

You often hear that disease does not choose whether you're Republican or a Democrat, and I think the solution to this does not choose either. And I think we need to work together hard on getting this done.

I've seen many good ideas -- there's some good ideas in what's been introduced in the Senate, what's been discussed in the House. The Republicans have introduced principles. Moderates have introduced principles. These are all concepts that I think can be put into legislation. And I think more than any other legislation we're working on, we need to work on this.

And one of the central themes needs to be cost containment in some way or another. We have a huge cost issue with health care to individuals, to businesses and to the government now and clearly we need to work on that. We need to work on making sure that people are well and kept well. And we need to make absolutely certain we come up -- come up with a solution which we can all wrap our arms around and say, "This is good for the future of the country."

So hopefully we can do that, and I look forward to working with my colleagues here and everybody in the House and Senate and the White House to get this done.

REP. COOPER: Let me introduce now a physician from Huntsville, Alabama, Parker Griffith.

REP. GRIFFITH: Thank you.

Thank you, all of you, for being here, because this does require a bipartisan effort. Every year that goes by without a health care reform bill, without access for every American, we lose 18,000 American lives needlessly. So this requires a bipartisan effort. A partisan bill will not -- will not get through the legislative process.

We need to work together. We know -- we recognize that we've got strong polarization on many issues, but this should not be one of them. The access to affordable health care is something that we are all agreeing on. We're all agreeing on the diagnosis. We're not agreeing on the treatment. But we have to come together in order to do that. And I think that we will.

I think the effort of this group -- and we have many more downstairs that are in agreement with us, that despite our party differences, this is a must for American business and it's a must for the health care of America.

So I appreciate the opportunity to voice that. I don't think that we can retreat back into our "R" and our "D" homes. I think we need to get out front, get it on the table, work together and get this done. Thank you.

REP. COOPER: The next speaker will be Jo Ann Emerson from Missouri.

REP. EMERSON: Thank you. Thank you all for being here today. I echo the comments of all of my colleagues.

Let me also mention the cost issue. And we've got to balance cost with access. There are a lot of cost containment ideas that we have had individually and collectively.

That's got to be part of the process, because we've all seen how expensive the Senate bills are. And they will only get more expensive as they keep adding parts to it.

And so we believe that we all need to be involved in this discussion, and it shouldn't just -- what we come up with shouldn't be just written by those people who sit on committees, but, rather, you should pull the expertise of all of us together.

So cost, access, there's got to be balance. Thank you.

REP. COOPER: Unfortunately, as you can see, we only have two minutes and 40 seconds left before we have to be downstairs voting, so that's the remaining time of this press conference. Who's got a question?

Q Are there particular things that you as a group are concerned about and things that are bogging down the process, whether it be a public option or how you pay for it?

REP. COOPER: We're really not here today to discuss a particular bill or even provisions. We're here to discuss the target we should be aiming at, which is bipartisanship, which is at least 60 votes in the Senate and hopefully a bipartisan majority in the House. That's the target we should be aiming for.

The Senate Finance Committee has delayed consideration until after the Fourth of July recess. That's been a committee that's actually focused in a bipartisan fashion. We hope all the committees will focus in a bipartisan fashion.

Q But broadly, I mean, the Republicans have said no way on a public option. Does that mean, if you're going to have bipartisanship, no public option?

REP. EMERSON: Of course, I would like to point that we don't really know what a public --

Q (Off mike.)

REP. EMERSON: We don't know what a public option looks like. Nobody's explained. There are -- there are probably 18 different types of public options that you could look at.

Q (Off mike.)

REP. EMERSON: Well, that's fine. But not all Republicans are saying that. What I'm saying is that you have to look at what the option is and how you define it. And that's not an endorsement of a public option. It's just that we don't have any specifics on anything, so how do you make a comment on it? You know, Medicare is a public option -- that's what we're doing today -- but so is some of the ideas that Jim and I came up with and Mike in the Healthy Americans Act.

Q Could some of you in both parties be open to some of the ideas for compromise, whether it be -- (off mike) -- on the Senate side, like coops or finding an alternative to taxing employee benefit plans that Wyden is working on?

REP. COOPER: Well, again, the key of this press conference is bipartisanship, bipartisanship. We're not here to slow down the process. We're here to hit the right target. And so many press stories, including some of our most prestigious publications, have just assumed that reconciliation applies, but it applies to a category of bills that the Senate is completely unlikely to ever pass, and it would not be called health reform.

So effectively, reconciliation does not apply. You have to aim for a target of at least 60 votes. And with the illnesses of certain senators, the absence, you've got to really focus on getting bipartisan support early on in the debate.

Q Are you happy with the efforts from the Democratic party to reach out to moderates and Blue Dogs as well?

REP. COOPER: We need to work on those outreach efforts. We all do, every day. And unfortunately, there are 15 seconds left in the vote, so thank you for being here.

Q Thank you.

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