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ABC News "This Week With George Stephanopolous" - Transcript


Location: Unknown


STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Senator McConnell, thanks very much for your time this morning. Let me now bring in Democrat Claire McCaskill from Missouri. Senator McCaskill, I knew the second that swine flu came out of my mouth instead of H1N1, you'd be down -- you'd be jumping down my throat, so I apologize in advance for that...

MCCASKILL: I was thinking about my hog farmers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I knew you were.

On this national emergency, we do know that your hog farmers, though, are going to be coming in for more scrutiny. Do you agree with Senator McConnell that the Congress is prepared to give the president anything more he asks for, and do you believe specifically is there anything more he should be doing right now?
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MCCASKILL: No, I think that they've done a very effective coordinated effort within the Obama administration on the H1N1 virus. I think we are better prepared for this than, frankly, most of us anticipated when this surfaced a few months ago, and I think Congress is ready to give him any additional help. I think everyone -- one of the reasons we have so many more people going to the doctor for flu symptoms is because we've done such a good job with public awareness.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's turn to the issues -- the broader issue of health care. You heard Senator McConnell there. You were one of several Democrats to actually vote against this plan to relax the cuts to -- Medicare cuts to doctors this week, because it wasn't paid for. So how are you going to solve that as this goes forward in broader health care reform?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think what we'll do is we'll do a one-year fix that's paid for, and continue to work on ways that we can bring in these costs and make sure everything is paid for. But I think that Mitch McConnell is busy on politics instead of policy. I don't think that the vote last week should be any signal to America that we have lost the will to move forward and fix the ridiculously difficult and expensive health care dilemma we face in this country. And frankly, you can't be a deficit hawk -- you can't be a serious deficit hawk and not realize we've got to do something. Just continuing to do what we're doing now is going to put health care out of reach of most Americans within a decade.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you say you're only going to do a one- year extension of this Medicare, of these Medicare payments to doctors. I assume (ph) that's going to make the American Medical Association pretty unhappy. Are you certain you're still going to have their support for the broader reform if you do that?

MCCASKILL: Well, I mean, everyone is, you know, what's really happening right now is there is a lot of misinformation out there. And as people learn more about what this insurance exchange is and the public option, they begin to realize that this is not an all- encompassing government plan. In fact, the only people, George, that have to participate in the insurance exchange are members of Congress. We have written all the bills that require members of Congress and their staffs to go to the insurance exchange to buy insurance. And that's where we hope some kind of public alternative will be, in order to bring down costs.

So, I think that the hospitals are worried. The doctors are worried. The insurance companies are worried. The pharmaceutical companies are worried. Some Americans are worried. That's because we're trying to fix something that's complicated, that has broad implications.


MCCASKILL: I think, though, that the devil we know is much worse than what we're proposing to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's also because of a little bit of lack of clarity on what exactly the Congress is going to do, and I want to zero in on this public option because you've had all these behind-the- scenes negotiations right now. What exactly is Senator Reid talking about on the public option right now?

STEPHANOPOULOS: The way it's been described to me is that you would have a national plan, but it would be a national plan that doesn't impose Medicare rates or Medicare plus 5 percent, but one has the power to negotiate with the private insurance companies, but it would also give any individual state the right to say, no, I don't want to be part of the national plan.

Is that what he's calling for now and is it something you can support?

MCCASKILL: I -- I think what we're going to end up with is having votes on a number of choices: the ability for states to opt in to some kind of not-for-profit plan; the ability for states to opt out of some kind of not-for-profit plan to compete with the private insurance companies on this exchange; and then the option to trigger a not-for-profit plan if the insurance companies don't manage to bring down costs within a certain period of time.

I frankly have not drawn a line in the sand. I support the public option. I'll vote for the public option. But I'm focused on these deficit costs, on how can we reconfigure the way we pay for health care in a way that, long term, will begin to have an impact on these deficits that are really going to threaten the security of our nation in the next 10 to 20 years, if we don't get serious about it.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you haven't drawn a line in the sand, but the only Republican who's voted for the bill so far, Olympia Snowe, has. She was with our friend Al Hunt, here, just the other day, and he asked her -- I want to show this -- whether she would accept anything but this trigger option that you talked about, which would be imposed if the insurance companies don't do their job.

Here it was.


HUNT: You wouldn't accept any public option other than a trigger -- is that a...


SNOWE: That -- that's -- that's correct. Yes, I haven't thought of any other calculation, but a public option at the forefront really does put the government in a disproportionate position with respect to the industry.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, you suggested that she might be getting that as an option to vote for later on, but it's not the option that Senator Reid is working on right now.

Are you worried that you and your Democratic colleagues might be driving away the only Republican who seems inclined to support this effort?

MCCASKILL: Well, sure. I think -- you know, I'd be less than honest if I didn't say all of us were concerned about making sure we get the votes to move forward. But I remain pretty optimistic.

I think, as -- one of the reasons, I think, the poling has improved for what we're doing in Washington is that it's open enrollment period right now. And so many people are looking, once again, at another year where they're not going to get a raise because all of their raise is going to go to increased health care costs.

So I think that -- and keep in mind, if we get some of the more moderate senators like Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman in the fold, it would not surprise me to see the few remaining moderate Republicans come along.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, bottom line, you believe this does get done this year and it does have a public option?

MCCASKILL: I think it gets done this year and I think we end up with some kind of opportunity to go to a public not-for-profit option among many private options that people that currently don't have insurance -- and keep in mind, not everybody can even go to this exchange and buy insurance with any kind of subsidy. This is going to be a fairly limited number of people -- 25 million to 30 million are the estimates -- that would even be on this insurance exchange.

By and large, most of this country is going to continue to get their health insurance through their employer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So it is all about option this morning. Senator McCaskill, thank you very much. Let me bring in the roundtable.

MCCASKILL: It's all about options.


STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let me bring in the roundtable right now.

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