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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Here"s what Democratic congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey said about the Democratic approach to selling health care reform. Quote, "We are arrogant when we say, Well, as soon as the public understands what we"re doing, they"ll like it. That is not only arrogant, it"s BS."
U.S. Congressman Pascrell joins us right now. Sir, do you want to reiterate in perhaps more illustrative language, perhaps pretty prettier language? But you make your point, but do it again. What is it?
REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, the point of the matter is that we made it too cumbersome. We"re talking many good ideas here, Chris. There"s no question about it. We cannot continue to do what we"re doing, whether we"re talking about what goes on in our hospitals or what goes on in health care in general. We can"t afford it, first of all. And second of all, it"s not making us healthier. And I think that"s the main thing.
So we made too many things available in this particular piece of legislation, and it confused and created more anxiety. The American people have enough anxiety right now, and we probably made it too large. I still believe in health care reform, but this isn"t the ticket. And as my buddy from the New York, Tony Weiner, said, you"re whistling past a cemetery if you think we"re going to resurrect the same tool.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about a simple question nobody ever asks on this show. Let"s talk average people. I grew up in northeast Philly, north Philly for a while. I know what average people mean. You represent an average group of people up there in northern New Jersey.
MATTHEWS: What do average people who have a job and are worried about losing it--what do average people want from health care right now they don"t have? Or would they rather they had nothing?
PASCRELL: They want affordability.
MATTHEWS: Would they rather the president just stayed away from it?
PASCRELL: They want affordability, Chris, first of all, because those that have insurance see their premiums continue to rise. We have not guaranteed that those premiums really would be--we"d cut them off and stop the increase. We haven"t really guaranteed that we"d minimize the increase in those premiums because we weren"t able to take on the insurance companies. They still maintain the exception, the exemption from the antitrust laws. There"s only, as you know, two groups that do...
PASCRELL: ... those and the baseball players.
PASCRELL: And I think that that"s not acceptable to the American people. And it only falls into what you"ve talked about many, many times, of how we perceive the big guys get away with things and the average guy doesn"t.
PASCRELL: And the average guy simply doesn"t want to get away with things, but he wants at least to not make it more difficult for him to live day to day.
MATTHEWS: Well, nobody wants to be a chump.
MATTHEWS: And nobody wants to be working every day, coming home tired, barely able to watch television at night and wondering why they"re working so hard, when it seems like somebody"s got some scam going, and some of them are politicians. So here"s the question. Are we better off with nothing than what"s on the table right now?
PASCRELL: No, I don"t believe--well, whether...
MATTHEWS: That"s a tough call, isn"t it.
PASCRELL: ... we"re talking about the Senate bill--we"re not going to pass the Senate bill.
That"s--that"s not going to go anyplace in the House.
MATTHEWS: So, we"re better off without nothing than the--so, we"re better off without that?
PASCRELL: And the Senate--and the Senate bill--what I think we need to do is what the president suggested. Step back. Take a breather. I would have done this back before Thanksgiving, though, Chris. I think that"s when it was inevitable that we were heading for a collision course, before Massachusetts, you know, just after New Jersey.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, that"s looking backwards.
PASCRELL: The handwriting was--was on the wall.
PASCRELL: And to be arrogant and not accept the dictates of those couple of elections, it"s not the end of the world, by any stretch. There are more Republicans retiring than Democrats.
But, again, if you indicate that you"re not affected by these elections, there"s something wrong in the process, and we"re not responding to what the people"s feelings are.
MATTHEWS: How come there"s no deal-making? I like deal-making. Most people don"t like the smell of it, but I love it. It"s construction, to be the smell of construction, when you"re having deals made.
Why can"t you find 20 or 30 Republicans, like Reagan was able to find 30 or 40 Democrats, and cut a deal on health care? Aren"t there enough Republicans out there that want to do something about preexisting conditions...
MATTHEWS: ... about allowing people to take their insurance with them when they change jobs, the things that most middle-class people want? Why don"t Republicans want those middle-class things, and why can"t you do them together?
PASCRELL: Well, there are some things that I think both sides would agree on. Of course, you know, preconditions, I mean, or...
MATTHEWS: Well, why don"t you do it?
PASCRELL: ... getting--or getting--well, I have suggested that we divide this into segments.
PASCRELL: We deal with the reforms first. We deal with the antitrust second. And then we even deal with liabilities, Chris. There"s no way to get around that problem. We have got to address it. We have got to come up with...
MATTHEWS: I am with you. I am with you. I--that is a great idea. Do the preexisting, the reform stuff. Then do the antitrust stuff, so you have more competition.
MATTHEWS: And then go deal with the trial lawyers later.
PASCRELL: That"s what I would recommend.
MATTHEWS: But, first of all, the administration ain"t going to trust the trial lawyers, because they"re in bed with them. These Democrats--most Democrats, maybe not you, are in bed with the trial lawyers, the trial bench. They will not challenge them. They will not go after these--these deals, this amount of money you can make against doctors, and the fact we don"t even specialists in a lot of areas like Pennsylvania.
Do you think they will actually do something you"re proposing?
PASCRELL: Yes. And I think that liabilities issues are blown out of proportion by both sides of the argument. There is no question in my mind we need to deal with it if we"re going to deal with health care reform.
And, second of all, the trial lawyers aren"t all wrong, because, in many of the states where they have had caps on these settlements, you know as well as I, there"s been no freezing of the premium increase. Now, if you were to guarantee me that we are going to freeze premiums...
MATTHEWS: That"s a good deal.
PASCRELL: ... I would absolutely go for...
MATTHEWS: Well, let"s make that deal.
PASCRELL: ... liability reform right now, tomorrow morning.
MATTHEWS: There"s a great deal. Get the insurance companies to cut premiums if you agree to put caps on these deals, these findings by juries.
PASCRELL: Yes. Yes. And it"s been tried. In part of the Texas reform, it has worked, but no other state have they really frozen premiums...
PASCRELL: ... in doing what you and I are talking about right now.
MATTHEWS: OK. Give us some hope.
Is there going to be some kind of reform this year that"s agreeable to both sides? Will they do this piecemeal and do something on portability, on preexisting conditions? Let"s start with that first chunk.
MATTHEWS: Is it going to happen?
PASCRELL: I really believe that it can happen. And I believe that the president should try again to reach out to the other side.
I know what he tried to do in the beginning. And Mr. Boehner, who is the leader of the Republicans in the House, he chose the path of saying, nah, our party is not going to support any of this.
And it really puts the pressure on anybody on the other side who wants to think of some good ideas. Republicans had great ideas.
MATTHEWS: I would love to see them.
PASCRELL: We had some bipartisan meetings. And I liked some of their ideas. And I liked some of our ideas.
MATTHEWS: I think it would be a great...
MATTHEWS: Make the Republicans vote against a reform like preexisting conditions.
PASCRELL: That"s correct. I would like to see that. Expose...
MATTHEWS: That would be great. Number two, how about going with them on getting rid of the antitrust, getting--letting--letting states, let insurance companies compete across state lines, so you have real competition across...
PASCRELL: Well, why don"t we make a deal between that and the liability situation? You can"t have it all one way.
PASCRELL: Let"s come up with language that we can both accept. I don"t think that"s so ridiculous.
MATTHEWS: Well, why are we having this conversation here, and they don"t have it between--between John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi?
PASCRELL: You will have to ask them.
MATTHEWS: Are you parties still locked--are they both locked into their interest groups, where they can"t cut deals anymore, which is what politicians are supposed to do?
PASCRELL: That"s part of the--and that"s part of the problem, because when the president started off talking to some of the entities that are involved here, I think he sent a message, because we were trying to get away from that kind of thing.
You like the deal-making. I don"t know if that"s deal-making or simply casting a die on what"s going to happen in the future. There"s a good side of it and there"s a bad side of it.
PASCRELL: I don"t think good came out of that, by the way.
MATTHEWS: Well, if everybody likes the idea of compromise across the aisles, where you actually get something done, instead of more talk about it, on programs like this...
PASCRELL: I"m going to fight for it, Chris.
MATTHEWS: ... write U.S. Congressman Bill Pascrell--P-A-S-C-R-E-L-
PASCRELL: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: That"s United States House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., 20515. You can"t miss it -- 20515. Actually writing a letter would be kind of old-school, but it would work. How about writing a letter to this congressman saying, let"s get a compromise?
Thank you, sir.
PASCRELL: God bless.
MATTHEWS: And I appreciate you coming on HARDBALL tonight.
PASCRELL: Honor to be with you.
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