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MSNBC "Interview With Senator Arlen Specter" - Transcript


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MS. MITCHELL: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Senator, it's still taking me a while to get my head around that, "Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania Arlen Specter joining us now."

Where do you want to see the health care debate moving in terms of where the compromises can be made?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I do. There's a big question as to how we're going to pay for it, Andrea. We have a tremendous deficit. We've got a gigantic national debt. There are lot of important things we have to do, and health care is vital. We need to cover all Americans, and we need to do it right. But we're now trying to figure out how to pay for it.

MS. MITCHELL: What about taxes? What about taxing health-care benefits? The president seemed to be opening the door to some kinds of taxation, but obviously he's going to get hammered from the opposition on that. Is there a compromise that can be put together on taxing?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, Andrea, I think all of those items are on the table. It's a big issue, and we ought to consider every possibility.

I'm really looking for some realistic scoring by the Congressional Budget Office on the savings we're going to have -- savings from the changes in lifestyle; savings from the funding for NIH, which I have been instrumental on, going to cure a lot of diseases, advanced directives, living wills. My Criminal Law Subcommittee's going to be looking for jail sentences for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. I think they're quite few a savings that we could make, and they have to be calculated as well.

MS. MITCHELL: Let me ask you about Judge Sotomayor because you were on the floor, and --


MS. MITCHELL: -- you suggested that you're going to ask her a couple of questions on televising the Supreme Court. Now, we know that Justice Souter was very much against that, but so are many of his colleagues. Do you think it's time to televise the court?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I certainly do. Justice Souter made the most dramatic statement. He said, when the cameras roll in, "over my dead body." But Justice Stevens is for it, and a number of the other justices have kept an open mind, and they do appear on television.

Andrea, look here, every branch of government ought to be accountable. The case load of the Supreme Court has gone way down. The number of clerks has gone way up. Their foreign travel, three months off during the summer. I think the people ought to know what is going on.

The Senate's televised, so is the House. And they decide the big, cutting-edge questions of the day: a woman's right to choose, executive power, Guantanamo. I think they ought to -- people can go in and watch the proceedings, but they can only stay for three minutes. So I think it's time the Senate (sic/Supreme Court) was televised and America knew what was going on behind those doors.

MS. MITCHELL: What about the case that's going to be handed down on Monday, the New Haven case? Do you think that that is going to create more difficulty for her around the margins? Because it is a case from her circuit.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I do not. When you deal with affirmative action, there are very many nuances and a lot of subtleties. And we are all looking for a colorblind society so that nobody has any advantage. But also there's the point about righting a lot of historical wrongs. But I think Judge Sotomayor's decision on that, the opinion that the circuit put out, was well within the bounds of reason.

But you have a lot of five-to-four decisions, Andrea. And who can say that the five are right and the four are wrong? And then they come along on very similar cases -- Title I and Title II of the Americans with Disability (sic/Disabilities) Act -- and decide it differently. It's hard even for a Philadelphia lawyer sometime(s) to figure out what they're doing. That's why we ought to know more about them.

MS. MITCHELL: All right. Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania Arlen Specter, always good to see you. Thank you very much.

SEN. SPECTER: Nice to talk to you, Andrea. Thank you.

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