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CNN "Newsroom" - Transcript

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Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for being here. I am T.J. Holmes, sitting in today for Rick Sanchez.

But, first, here I want to get to health care. The president seems to have a pretty steep climb. And it seems to be getting steeper today, because key members of Congress are apparently poised to reject his preference for government-run insurance, a government- run -- the so-called public option that would compete with private providers.

This could be a really big deal. This is really one of the cornerstones of the president's health care reform plan. Now, we have got six senators to tell you about here. We have got three Democrats and three Republicans. They have been meeting for the past few days, really, and been meeting hour after hour behind closed doors to find a plan that everybody can be happy with. Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Jeff Bingaman, they're all the Democrats. Olympia Snowe, Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, three Republicans.

All six now poised possibly said to be able to -- or are ready to reject government-run insurance, because it just might not be something that both sides and the public can stomach.

So, stay with me here. They have another plan. They don't -- might not go with that, but here's what they might be. These six senators are talking about doing something else. They are talking about doing something that's called a nonprofit provider of health care or a co-op that would force competition on the private insurers. This kind of might be the same as a government system, kind of the same thing the government-run system would do, but just you are calling it a different name, some are saying.

All right. This could be where we are headed. But would the president even go for this? Well, he might have to, even though his strongest supporters say, no public option, no deal.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, you have got to help us all with this thing. All right, before we get into the co-op and the government-run option, just tell me, first -- you are party of this committee. Tell me how close the committee is to actually getting something that all sides agree on and getting a bill out of that committee.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Well, I think that we are close.

The six members that you talked about, the bipartisan group, has really been working night and day. We as Democrats met today. We will meet again tomorrow. I think we have honed in on what the issues are and the options are. And people are working very, very hard.

So, we are close. But, T.J., I have to say that the most important thing here is to really get it right. We want to get it soon. People have been waiting way too long in this country. But it has got to be right, because it affects everybody.

HOLMES: Well, and you say soon. I hate to put you on the spot, but I am going to do it anyway. You think possibly this week?

STABENOW: I think it is possible. I think it is possible to have an agreement that would go to what's called a markup, basically voting in Finance next week. But I think a lot of work has to be done in order to make that happen.

HOLMES: All right, help me now with this so-called -- this public option, this government-run option, as it's been called out there. Is that still on the table? Or have you gotten to the point that you know that the bill that is going to come out of your committee will not have the president's preference of a government-run insurance option?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, T.J., I support a public health option that fairly competes with the private sector.


STABENOW: I think it brings down costs and it adds in fact to the coverage options for people.

There are a number of tables. I think, on the Finance table, what we are seeing is that, rather than something called a public option, the co-op approach, which is another way to do a nonprofit consumer-driven option, focused on patients, focused consumers, that's what's being talked about in Finance.

We have another table called the Health Committee, the Health Committee that brought out a public option. We have another table called the House of Representatives that has a public option. So, we are in the middle of the process.

And the bottom line, when all of this is done, is that we need to make sure that people can keep what they have if they want to and that we are strengthening and fixing the problems that we have right now in health care.

HOLMES: Well, Senator, I have to get back to this point, because this is a really big deal to a lot of folks.


HOLMES: And the Associated Press reported that, in fact, they were talking to someone who said that that committee and those six senators were looking at a compromise that would take away that government-run, that public option. So, I heard what you are saying. It might be called something else, a co-op. And even if we go that director, OK, but, from what the president wants, which he was clear, he wants this government-run option, is that no longer something under consideration in your committee, not the other committees, but yours in particular?


Well, let me first stress, I support the president and his position, with where he is, but it is going to be difficult to get that option out of the Finance Committee. That's been one of the sticking points.

And, so, the negotiators are looking at something else that would achieve the same purpose. And, so, that's really the bottom line.


STABENOW: And Finance Committee will have its approach and then we will go on and we will keep working.

HOLMES: So, not looking at that option anymore. I just wanted to make sure we got that cleared up.

You said you are -- or -- excuse me -- Senator Baucus, the chair of the committee, said -- came out -- and he does -- he talks to the president every single day. I am sure he comes back and reports to you all, the full committee.


HOLMES: So, tell us, how is the president taking this news that that government-run option, that public option that he has been so much an advocate for, is not something that's going to come out of your committee?

STABENOW: Well, I haven't talked directly to the president about this recently. But I do know that he understands that this is a process. He was a member of the Senate.

He understands that this is a process, and that we have to look at where the support is in Finance Committee. Then we go to the floor. I think it's a different situation, when you talk about the full Senate, all of the senators together. So, it's a step-by-step process.

I think -- my guess is what the president would say is, do the best you can, and we will keep working to fine-tune it.

HOLMES: All right.

And, Eric Cantor, Representative, Republican from Virginia, came out a short time ago speaking about -- again, there are so many committees with so many plans.

STABENOW: Right. HOLMES: And nothing that comes out is going to be final.

Just take a quick listen. Let our viewers here what he had to say about how things are going. Let's take a quick listen.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: The reality of what President Obama is being -- is proposing is putting the government in competition with those in the private sector.

Employers, one after the other, have said, if you do that, there will be no other option then for us to shed our health care and allow all of our employees then to go into the government plan.

When you look at it, those that have health care in this country, an overwhelming number of Americans like what they have. They just say it is too expensive.


HOLMES: All right. And you hear there talking about what could happen down the road with a government-run option.

And, ma'am, I need you to be as frank as you can here. How much of this just is about semantics and what members of Congress are going to be able to go back and talk to their constituents about? When they go back and say, yes, I voted for this government-run option, a lot of people are going to hear, I don't want the government running my health care. I don't want socialized medicine. You hear that as well.

So, it sounds better to be able to say a co-op. How much of this simply is semantics and what you can sell to the people?

STABENOW: Well, I think it is more than semantics. I think there are some real differences between the plans.

But, T.J., also understand that the people that are out there throwing out all kinds of words that aren't accurate are just the no crowd. They're against again. And we know the status quo is really a disaster down the road.

And, so, yes, public option, co-op, having competition with the private sector is a part of this. But, also, for people that have insurance today, it is about making sure, if they lose their job, like a lot of people in my state are doing, that they have another option, that they don't lose their insurance.

So, there's a lot more to this than just that one issue, as important as it is. And I would just say, if the purely private sector insurance company system had worked well, I wouldn't be standing here today talking to you. We wouldn't be having this debate.

The reality is, it hasn't worked for too many people. Eighty percent of the people that currently don't have insurance are working for a small business, can't afford health insurance.

So, we have got to do more than the current private insurance company system. And, frankly, the person standing between you and your doctor right now is an insurance company bureaucrat. And that's not worked too well for an awful lot of people. So, what we are talking about is how to make the system work better for people.

HOLMES: Well, Senator Stabenow, a lot of people are waiting by, standing by anxiously to see what comes out of your committee and many others...

STABENOW: Thank you.

HOLMES: ... and get this worked out.

Ma'am, we appreciate you so much for taking the time and giving us the update on what is happening with the committee. You have a good rest of the day.

STABENOW: Thanks so much.

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