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NBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript


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Both of you, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS on a big day.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Good to be with you, David.

MR. GREGORY: Leader Hoyer, you need...

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Nice to see you.

MR. GREGORY: ...216 votes. Where are you this morning?

REP. HOYER: We're going to get those 216 votes because we believe that they understand that Americans want healthcare reform by overwhelming majorities.

MR. GREGORY: Do you have them as we sit here?

REP. HOYER: I think we're going to have 216 votes when the roll is called, yes.

MR. GREGORY: But not yet? You're not nailed down.

REP. HOYER: There's still member...

MR. GREGORY: You--you're still a few behind.

REP. HOYER: There's still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds. But we think that there are going to be 216-plus votes when we call the roll.

MR. GREGORY: What makes you so confident? What's the final push?

REP. HOYER: Because for a hundred years, over a hundred years, David, as you well know, presidents of both parties have been saying we need to make sure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. George Bush said that, his father said that, Richard Nixon said it in 1974. So that this is the time to do it. We've come the furthest we've ever come to get--getting this done, and we're going to get it done today in the House of Representatives.

MR. GREGORY: Fair to say there will not be a vote called if you don't have the 216?

REP. HOYER: We're going to have a vote. We're going to have 216.

MR. GREGORY: Either way?

REP. HOYER: We're going to pass this bill.

MR. GREGORY: Either way you'll have a vote?

REP. HOYER: We're going, we're going to pass this bill, David.

MR. GREGORY: Leader Boehner, do they have the votes?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, it's clear from listening to Steny that they don't have the votes yet. You have to think about this. Fifty-four speeches by the president of the United States over the last year, a year's conversation with the American people, and they've been heavily engaged in this conversation for nine months. The Senate bill's been out there now for three months. And yet, after all of this hand-wringing, all of this debate, millions of Americans upset on both sides of this debate, we're about to make this historic change on a purely partisan vote. And I think if the American people stay engaged in this fight for the next few hours, that this, this fight is not lost yet. This fight for having real healthcare reform on a step-by-step basis to make our current system work better really can happen. But first, we have to stop this bill, which will ruin our economy, ruin our healthcare system, the best healthcare system in the world.

MR. GREGORY: All right, you'll,

REP. HOYER: David, let...

MR. GREGORY:'ll be able to respond to some of the substance of that. But I thought Rex Babin in the Sacramento Bee, a cartoonist, summed up what the final push really looks like in this cartoon. You have Speaker Pelosi, or the rough rider, trying to herd cats literally in the Democratic caucus. To Leader Boehner's point, why is this vote so close? Does it have something to do with the fact that, if you look at the opinion surveys, the public's against it?

REP. HOYER: No, I don't think that's right. The Economist poll shows that the majority of Americans are for it. Kaiser shows that Americans are for it. Wall Street Journal poll that came out just a few days ago shows that...

MR. GREGORY: That's our poll. That's not what it shows. It shows...

REP. HOYER: Forty-six, 45.

MR. GREGORY: ...a majority want them to complete it, but the majority are opposed to it.

REP. HOYER: Well, I think if you look at every one of the internals, David, about stopping insurance companies from preventing pre-existing conditions from getting insurance, from putting so much money on--you have to spend per year that you go bankrupt and not putting on lifetime caps, those insurance reforms, those process reforms to insurance companies that are hurting Americans are all supported by overwhelming numbers of people.

REP. BOEHNER: Well, Steny, listen, there's no question...

REP. HOYER: And people believe that we ought to have a, a national exchange so that the free market can be--operate so you can have transparency and competition.

Let me also say about this vote, David. You remember the prescription drug bill? You remember that it took them three hours, from 3 AM in the morning to 6 AM in the morning, to bludgeon their members to get it to pass. And it was very controversial. And guess what, people like that prescription drug program and, in fact, we're going to make sure that the failures of that program to, to make sure all Americans could afford it, we're going to close the doughnut hole for seniors. So I think that Americans are for this bill. What they don't like is the divisiveness, the confrontation and, very frankly, the misrepresentation.

REP. BOEHNER: Oh, no. David, David, there are insurance reforms and healthcare reforms that we can agree upon. We talked about it at the White House during the summer. But the--what the American people don't want is this big government takeover of our healthcare system--160 new boards, commissions, mandates, $500 billion in tax increases on an economy that, that is supposed to be producing jobs, and $500 billion being stolen from Medicare in order to fund a new government entitlement program. They want no part of this.

REP. HOYER: Government takeover...

MR. GREGORY: Let, let me, let me interject a question.

REP. HOYER: ...and stolen--John, you know that is not true. It--this is not a government takeover, it's a creation of open markets with private insurance companies offering insurance to people who don't have it.

REP. BOEHNER: It, it is a government takeover...

REP. HOYER: It's not a government takeover.

REP. BOEHNER: ...and, and a mandate on every American to have health insurance, a mandate on every employer to provide health insurance. How about the health choices czar...

REP. HOYER: But that's not accurate.

REP. BOEHNER: ...that's going to decide what every health insurance policy in America looks like within five years.

MR. GREGORY: Let me interject a question about the tone of this debate. This was the scene on Capitol Hill yesterday where you had tea party activists protesting the vote. And in some cases it got quite ugly, where we had instances of anti-gay epithets being hurled at Congressman Frank, racist epithets, as well, hurled by protesters. Are you concerned, Leader Boehner, that the Republican Party is in any way associated with tea party activists who are among these protesters?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, listen. There were some isolated incidents on the Hill yesterday that were reprehensible and should not have happened. But let's not let a few isolated incidents get in the way of the fact that millions of Americans are scared to death and millions of Americans want no part of this growing size of government here in Washington. We've got the best healthcare system in the world, and we're about to take this dangerous step, very dangerous step toward the government running the whole thing. That's not what the American people want.

MR. GREGORY: We--we've heard this debate over weeks and months, and we're not going to solve that now about--this is very much a question about the role of government in a, in a, in a system like health care. But I want to ask, first of all, Leader Hoyer, a comment on some of the, the protests that you saw yesterday and the tone of the debate at the end.

REP. HOYER: I think the tone of this entire debate has been denigrated, has been brought down, frankly, by the rhetoric of "government takeover," "socialism," things that are simply not accurate or true. But it has put people in fear. And when they're fear--fearful and angry, they don't look at the substance. But when you ask them questions about the substance of these bills, which is the point I made earlier, David, they say yes, that makes sense. Yes, that's common sense. Yes, that makes sense. Whether it's the insurance reforms, the affordability. This is the biggest deficit reduction bill that we're going to have the opportunity to vote on in a very long period of time.

And very frankly, John Boehner said in 1993 that if we adopted President Clinton's economic program, the economy was going to go downhill very, very quickly, unemployment would rocket up and the deficits would explode. Exactly the opposite happened.

MR. GREGORY: All right, we, we have...

REP. HOYER: Best economy we've had in my lifetime.

REP. BOEHNER: This will bankrupt our country.

MR. GREGORY: This debate will play out. But, Leader Hoyer...

REP. HOYER: This time he says he's right.

MR. GREGORY: ...I want to get to a couple of substantive points.


MR. GREGORY: Very briefly, three top things that Americans will feel from healthcare reform this year.

REP. HOYER: Availability of insurance, availability for small businesses. For seniors, the doughnut hole's going to be closed. People who have children who are up to 25 or 26 years of age will have access to be on their insurance policies. Immediate reduction in prices for small business. They're going to have group--availability of group policies. And tax credits for small businesses and individuals to get insurance.

MR. GREGORY: But the 32 million additional don't really start to get covered till 2014.

REP. HOYER: No. We'll--we'll phase them in. That's accurate, David. And we're going to phase them in, because this is a very large, complex program. And we're going to have to...

REP. BOEHNER: But, David, you're right. Most of this doesn't go into effect for four years.

REP. HOYER: Well, he's correct.

REP. BOEHNER: Except the tax increases and the Medicare cuts go into effect immediately.

REP. HOYER: No, no.

REP. BOEHNER: So we've got 10 years of, of Medicare cuts, 10 years of tax increases to pay for six years of, of this new program. And while the...

REP. HOYER: John, you're making a point...

REP. BOEHNER: friend says...

REP. HOYER: ...but we save over $1 trillion over the next 20 years.

REP. BOEHNER: ...that we're, that we're, that we're going to save, we're going to save money from this is just not true. The $300...

MR. GREGORY: And, in fact, and in fact...

REP. BOEHNER: ...billion of--to fix the doctor reimbursement problem is not in the bill.

REP. HOYER: And what's in, and what's in your bill, John?

REP. BOEHNER: And everybody knows, and everybody knows that, that it's going to need to be dealt with.

REP. HOYER: Why didn't you put it in your bill, John?

REP. BOEHNER: They take, they take $70 billion out of the Class Act, this is the new long-term care insurance program, and they use it to pay for current benefits. And the $500 billion they take out of Medicare--they're stealing from Medicare to start a new entitlement program, and if there's savings from Medicare, why wouldn't we roll it back in to save Medicare and, and to prolong the trust fund that's there to fund it?

MR. GREGORY: Leader Boehner, there's a question of the cost of inaction, and Ron Brownstein writes about it in his National Journal column. I want to put it up on the screen and have you react to it. "In all," he writes, "CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has projected that the Senate bill would raise enough revenue and sufficiently cut existing spending to both cover its costs and reduce the federal deficit in the near and long term. For fiscal hawks, that's a powerful" incentative "for action"--incentive, rather. "But equally compelling could be the price of inaction. If Obama's plan fails, as President Clinton's did, it's likely that no president would attempt a seriously expand coverage for many years. The independent Medicare actuary has projected that under current trends the number of uninsured will increase by 10 million, to about 57 million, by 2019. Providing uncompensated care to so many uninsured people would further strain physicians and hospitals - and inflate premiums as those providers shift costs to their insured patients."

Why, based on that, would you not conclude that even a flawed bill, as you might see it, is still better than nothing?

REP. BOEHNER: I don't disagree with what Ron wrote there, and there's nobody in talk--in Washington talking about inaction. We've laid out commonsense steps that will lower the cost of health insurance according to the Congressional Budget Office by up to 10 percent, and this step-by-step approach preserves the greatest healthcare system in the world. It doesn't take this dangerous step toward, toward government-run health insurance. And so we can take steps, and we need to take steps, but we need to do it together. Never in the history of our country have we made such a big, momentous decision on a straight party-line vote.

REP. HOYER: Well, we made a very big momentous decision in 1993, as I pointed out on a partisan line, no Republicans voted for it. We had the best economy result in our lifetimes. However, having said that, the dangerous takeovers, this language, really distracts us from the debate on the substance. Harry and Louise said in 1994, "You're going to pay more and get less if we do something." We did nothing and guess what happened? They paid more and they got less.

MR. GREGORY: But in terms...

REP. HOYER: This is--he's absolutely right when he makes that quote. This is an opportunity both to save money in the short term and in the long term. And, unlike your program, which included three million people, this includes 32 million people...

MR. GREGORY: But the reality is, this assumes the Congress...

REP. HOYER: access.

MR. GREGORY: ...will do what it says it will do going forward.

REP. HOYER: Yes, it does.

MR. GREGORY: And you know there is indeed the chance that some of the financing, raising taxes down the line, which won't happen until 2018, may not actually come to pass. So you can't take these CBO numbers to the bank, can you?

REP. HOYER: David, you're correct on that, and Congress is going to have to show courage, and the American people are going to have to show judgment as we go forward whatever we do. You're absolutely right on that. As somebody who believes that the fiscal posture confronting our country is one of the most serious that we have, and we need to get back to fiscal discipline and fiscal balance. And the surpluses that we had during the Clinton administration, you're absolutely right on that. We're going to have to show courage and do what we say we're going to do.

MR. GREGORY: Leader Boehner, this is what you said about the politics of this decision for the November race. This is what you said the other day.

(Videotape, Friday)

REP. BOEHNER: The American people do not want any part of this, and if anyone thinks the American people are going to forget this vote, just watch.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: That to me--I may be wrong about this--that does sound like a threat. Are Democrats going to lose the House in the fall because of this vote?

REP. BOEHNER: I don't know whether they will or not. Our goal is to gain the majority. It's a steep climb, but we want the majority not for the sake of having the majority. We want the majority so that we can renew our fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government.

MR. GREGORY: But the campaign in the fall will be about, for Republicans, will be about repealing health care?

REP. BOEHNER: If, if this bill passes, we will have an effort to repeal the bill, and we'll do it the same way that we approached health care, on a step-by-step basis. I'd have a bill on the floor the first thing out to eliminate the Medicare cuts, eliminate the tax increases, eliminate the mandate that every American has to buy health insurance and the employer mandate...

MR. GREGORY: Right. And, and...

REP. BOEHNER: ...that's going to kill jobs.

MR. GREGORY: And Republicans, they would cover far fewer people. I mean, that's the vision that Republicans...

REP. HOYER: Would you eliminate...

MR. GREGORY: Leader Hoyer, wait a minute. Before...

REP. BOEHNER: Their plan will bankrupt our country, David!


REP. HOYER: That's not what the CBO says.

MR. GREGORY: Leader Hoyer, the impact on 2010? Does this cost Democrats the House?

REP. HOYER: No. I think we're going to win the House back. I think the American public saw the Republican leadership for 12 years, and they decided they didn't like that in '06, and they decided they didn't like the Republican presidency either in '08. And so they changed course, and they asked us to do strong things. And John McCain in that campaign said, "What do we need? We need to have Americans have access to affordable health care." All Americans. That's what John McCain said in the debate in '08.

REP. BOEHNER: And I agree with him.

REP. HOYER: Obama said the same thing, and that's what we're doing.

MR. GREGORY: We are--we are out of time. Leader Hoyer, how many votes shy are you as you sit here?

REP. HOYER: We're going to get the votes.

MR. GREGORY: Low single digits?

REP. HOYER: We're going to get the votes. Low single digits, certainly, but we're going to get the votes, and we're going to have those votes this afternoon.

MR. GREGORY: All right, try to pin you down. Thank you both very much.

REP. HOYER: We try.

MR. GREGORY: Up next, what are the stakes of this healthcare legislation for the Obama presidency, and how large will this issue loom in the fall campaign? An exclusive debate, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine vs. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Plus, insights and analysis on it all from our roundtable. Chuck Todd, Tavis Smiley, Anita Dunn, and Ed Gillespie, only here on MEET THE PRESS.


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