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MSNBC "Interview With Senator Claire McCaskill" - Transcript


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MR. WATSON: Senator, good to see you.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Thank you.

MR. WATSON: Senator McCaskill, so, on health care, we just talked to Senator Mikulski earlier, who said that her bill's not going to get out on time, may imperil getting it, the overall bill, on the president's desk by October. How worried are you that the president won't achieve either meaningful universal health coverage or meaningful lowering of costs, getting both things done by October, as he had previously hoped?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, we literally can't afford to fail on health care. And I think the president will engage and continue to push. And, you know, it's a mess right now. But that's not surprising. We're trying to do big, hard stuff.

It's hard to change these calcified profit centers of health care that are out there. And the insurance companies don't want it. The pharmaceutical companies don't want it. And those people are powerful folks around here. So we've got to figure out a way to get this done to bring down the cost of health care, make it more accessible, make sure we have choices, and make sure that we can pay for it.

MR. WATSON: Senator McCaskill, you know, the president thus far has been good about kind of doing quiet diplomacy, if you will, on this health-care issue as well. But I ask you, as someone who's not been afraid to speak up, sometimes pretty openly and pretty candidly, whether or not you think, given what you just said, the president needs to go on the offensive on this health care issue and call out some Republican critics, call out maybe even some moderate Democrats who are going slow on this, call out the pharma companies if he sees some obstacles there. Do you think he needs to go a little bit on the offensive, like he did with the stimulus package?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I think the problem is they want to make sure that he is not the issue. I mean, if he had come -- "this is my plan" -- then his political opponents would immediately be against his plan. So I think he would like to see the bill kind of grow organically through the House and the Senate, and then him weigh in with parts of it that he thinks are great and the parts that he would like to see changed.

He may have to weigh in a little more heavily in the weeks to come to kind of get us through this really difficult time when we have two committees in the Senate trying to find a way forward and we've got a House version trying to find a way forward. So I think his leadership may be a little bit more necessary in the next six to eight weeks than it might have been up to now.

MR. WATSON: Senator McCaskill, today, I've got a guest co-anchor with me, Richard Wolffe, from MSNBC who remembers you so insightfully calling the Missouri primary presidential election. He's got a question for you in addition to saying hello.

MR. WOLFFE: Senator McCaskill, it's been long time since I saw you dance a jig that night when the result came in.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Yeah! (Laughs.)

MR. WOLFFE: But I want to ask you this. Senator Feinstein said over the weekend that Democrats, she thought, did not have the vote for health care right now. If Democrats with 59 votes in the Senate don't have enough support, when will they ever have enough votes?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I'm not sure that I agree with Dianne that we don't have enough votes. It's just that we all haven't reached an agreement on what this is going to look like. That doesn't mean that we're giving up. That doesn't mean that we won't come to an agreement. Compromises are going to be necessary. I mean, there are going to be those on the far left of this issue that aren't going to get everything they want; for example, single-payer is not going to happen. Those who want to make sure we have no public option, I don't think that's going to happen.

I think we're going to have to find a way forward. And if this were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. And the reason we put off health care reform year after year after year is we're going to have to make some people mad, and there's going to be some pain.

MR. WOLFFE: And, Senator, those independent voters that put you in office and also gave Senator -- then-Senator Obama his victory in the Missouri primary, independent voters don't like the cost of this plan so far. How do you reassure those people that the federal government can afford this?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I think what we have to continue to focus on is how much taxpayers are shouldering right now of the health-care burden. And if we don't make it more efficient, that bill is just going to get more and more expensive, and it will completely debilitate our financial strength in this country.

We either tackle this now and get costs down for the long run or we continue to do the irresponsible thing, which is putting it off to another day, which has just increased the costs long term.

MR. WATSON: Senator McCaskill, thank you so much for joining us. And I hope you will agree to be my co-anchor next time you're in New York at NYU.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Hey, that'd be fun.

MR. WATSON: Looking forward to it.


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