MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


By:  Sheldon Whitehouse
Date: Nov. 27, 2012
Location: Unknown


MATTHEWS: I know you represent a state -- a friend of mine lives up there, Frank Sullivan (ph), who regularly tells me about the unemployment situation in your state, the need that a lot of seniors have up there, golden agers, Tip called them, to really rely on Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. Is that going to be your position, no deal if it involves those programs?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I think the president has already said that Social Security should be outside of this discussion. It has not contributed to the deficit, and it shouldn`t be part of this discussion.

I think the press office said that the other day. We completely agree with that. We should set Social Security aside. It is solvent for decades, and by simply kicking in the Social Security tax above $250,000, you can make it solvent for decades more.

So, that`s less of an issue I think in reality than it is in the longtime Republican desire to attack it whenever they can. Remember, this is a party that tried to put it into the stock market just before the crash.

MATTHEWS: I remember.

WHITEHOUSE: So they have a long history of going after Social Security and we have to, I think, set it aside.

Medicare is a more complicated problem because we have a health care system in this country that`s immensely expensive, way too expensive, somewhere between $700 billion and $1 trillion a year by most standards, and 40 percent of that washes back through the federal budget. My position is that if we`re going after the old folks on Medicare and cutting their benefits, if we`re going after the families who have a disabled child who couldn`t take care of them if it wasn`t for Medicaid and we`re not dealing with the overall cost problem, then we are really disgracing ourselves.

I had this conversation with Senator Simpson in the Budget Committee when he was our witness there. He agrees with it. But -- and there`s always a caveat in these things -- that side of the equation is hard to score. And so from the...

MATTHEWS: I know. Well, this is an old argument.

WHITEHOUSE: ... the technical CBO insider problem...

MATTHEWS: I know. I want to keep it simple. I always say to people when you talk about cutting spending by the government, you`re actually stopping a check from going to some person.


MATTHEWS: Now, it may be going to a nurse. It may be going to a doctor who is really working very hard in the surgery room. It may be going to an attendant who works in a hospital and does a very good job. You`re cutting somebody`s check off.

Whose check do you think we could cut off in the health care world that wouldn't hurt the patient? That`s my question always.

WHITEHOUSE: I think you can do it with efficiencies. And if you look at -- the Institutes of Medicine just said there`s $750 billion a year we can save. The president`s own Council of Economic Advisers said it`s $700 billion a year. You go to the Lewin (ph) institute and George Bush`s Treasury Secretary O`Neill, they`re all the way up to $1 trillion a year.

As you know, when you talk budget numbers, you multiply by 10 because that`s the budget horizon we talk about. So, that takes you to $7 trillion to $10 trillion in the budget year. You only get 40 percent of that back in the federal government, but that`s still a very big number. And if you only succeed at getting 25 percent of those savings, you`re still back to $700 billion to $1 trillion in the budget.


MATTHEWS: You`re looking for a way through this. Thank you. You`re looking for a way through this. We have to get cost control. Anyway, thank you, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

WHITEHOUSE: You bet, Chris.


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