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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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We start with the vote on health care. Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland is the majority leader. Thank you for being here, Congressman.

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

Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Let"s watch together. Here"s the president today at George Mason University in Virginia. We"ll listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... one year after the worst recession since the Great Depression, having to make a bunch of tough decisions, having had a tumultuous debate, having had a lot of folks who were skeptical that we could get anything done. And right now, we"re at the point where we are going to do something historic this weekend! That"s what this health care vote is all about!



SMERCONISH: So Congressman, let me ask you the $64,000 question. Do you have the votes?

HOYER: I think we"re going to have the votes on Sunday when the roll is called, and we"re going to pass this bill, yes.

SMERCONISH: Can I ask you a question about process? By day, I"m a talk radio host, and it will not surprise you that I hear a lot of concern about "deeming," the self-executing rule, Slaughter. And to many, it sounds nefarious. Why the need to go this route?

HOYER: Well, first of all, it"s not nefarious at all. The Republicans used it about 200 times when they were in charge over 12 years. But let me tell you what this really is, and every American understands this. Let"s say you"re going to buy a house and the roof is leaking and needs to be fixed. And so you sign the contract to buy the house, but you say, It"s contingent upon you"re fixing the roof, and I won"t settle until you fix the roof.

That"s essentially the process that has been suggested, not finally decided on but suggested that, in effect, you vote to buy the house. That is the Senate bill. You vote for the Senate bill. But that"s contingent upon the roof being fixed. That is the reconciliation bill being passed.

So that it"s not--there"s nothing nefarious about it at all. I"m surprised that so many people have perceived it as nefarious. There"s going to be a vote on a Senate bill as amended, in effect, which would have happened if we"d had a conference. Unfortunately, the Republicans in the Senate wouldn"t vote to go to conference. As a result, the normal process, which would be putting the Senate and House bills together--that is to say, reconcile the differences between the two, adopt amendments and bring that out, and you"d have one vote on that. Now we"re essentially going to have two votes under the proposal, which is still under discussion. But there"s nothing nefarious about it.

It"s straightforward. Americans are going to know how their member voted on health care reform. We believe that Americans are going to be for and are for reform. There have been some differences, obviously, clear differences on specifics. But the American public, when polled on the specifics that are in this bill, overwhelmingly endorse them. And recent polling shows that the majority of them--in recent polls, in "The Wall Street Journal" poll and "The Economist" poll--think this bill ought to be passed. And we think it will be.

SMERCONISH: My desire, Congressman, is that regardless of how one feels about this particular bill, that at least all Americans will clearly understand how their member of Congress voted, so that when the town hall meetings begin, when members come home and start to meet with their constituencies--my standard, sir, is that you ought to be able to say to your member of Congress, Were you for it or against it? And they should be able to answer it with a one-word reply.

HOYER: Absolutely. I agree with that, and I think they will be able to. Clearly, in order to pass what would otherwise be the conference report, but in this case, the Senate report as amended, they"ll say yes or no to that question. And I think we"ll have more yesses than nos, and therefore, it"ll pass.

But I agree with you, the American public have a right to know how their member voted. Every member ought to understand that they"re either voting for health care reform or they"re not. And they ought to be able to respond cleanly on that issue, you"re right.

SMERCONISH: On tomorrow morning, the president comes to Capitol Hill for one last effort to rally the troops?

HOYER: Yes, the president wanted to meet with us. We want to see him. We want to talk about where we are and what his views are. Obviously, he made this a very principal objective in his campaign. He told all Americans that this was the policy he was going to pursue if he was elected. He was handily elected president of the United States. Many of us in the Democratic Party told our constituents the same thing.

And in fact, of course, John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, in an October debate with President Obama, said he, as well, believed that we ought to have an affordable, accessible health care process for all Americans. Now, he may differ with the means, but he clearly articulated the same goal. And that"s the goal we"re trying to attain and we think we will.

SMERCONISH: Something else, Congressman, that I hear from folks who call my radio programs. They want to know if whatever--assuming it gets passed on Sunday in the House of Representatives, does it apply to you?


SMERCONISH: Yes is the short answer?

HOYER: You want a yes or no answer, the answer is yes.

SMERCONISH: So what you"re saying is that members of Congress will be governed by that which is created through the exchanges in the same way that folks without insurance or those who do have insurance?


SMERCONISH: I want to show you one more piece of sound, if I may, from the president"s speech today in his last-bid effort to rally the troops.


OBAMA: Teddy Roosevelt, Republican, was the first to advocate that everybody get health care in this country.


OBAMA: Every decade since, we"ve had presidents, Republicans and Democrats, from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon to JFK to Lyndon Johnson to - - every single president has said, We need to fix this system. It"s a debate that"s not only about the cost of health care, not just about what we"re doing about folks who aren"t getting a fair shake from their insurance companies, it"s a debate about the character of our country.


SMERCONISH: Congressman, the president seems to have his game face on. In retrospect, was he disengaged until too late in the process?

HOYER: No, I don"t think he"s been disengaged. And very frankly, Mike, this has been the most open, transparent, involved process in adopting a piece of legislation that I"ve seen, frankly, in my 40 years in legislative office, 30 years in the Congress, more hearings, more debates, more amendments, more discussion, more notice of legislation. This bill that we"re going to consider on Sunday has been on line for three months.

So that I think the president"s been engaged. He"s been working with us. I think he"s now going to the public and saying, Look, this is what I said America needed. This is what I said I would do. And this is what you elected me to do. And so I think he"s got his game face on now, but I think he"s had his game face on.

As you know, very early in his term, he convened a health care forum in the White House, in the winter, to discuss this matter with all of the interest groups and stakeholders involved. And then he held an extraordinary session, as you know, just weeks ago. I don"t think it"s ever happened before, where a president of the United States has spent seven-and-a-half hours discussing in a very civil, thoughtful, informed way, health care reform in our country...

SMERCONISH: Hard to believe it"s coming to a close. We"ve been at it for a long, long time. Hey, thank you, Congressman Steny Hoyer. Appreciate your time.

HOYER: You bet. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, sir.


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