David Gregory: Healthcare Bill Is Not What Obama Campaigned On
A rather shocking thing happened on Sunday's "Meet the Press": host David Gregory complained to Senior White House Advisor David Axelrod that the healthcare reform bill ready to pass the Senate is not what Barack Obama campaigned on last year.
Maybe just as surprising, Gregory showed recent polls to Axelrod reflecting the public's disinterest in this bill.
"I've got a few of the bullet points of campaign promises made," said Gregory. "[T]here would be universal coverage when it came to getting healthcare. He opposed an individual mandate, which, of course, is part of this bill. And he indicated this would be paid for by rolling back Bush tax cuts, tax cuts."
The host then amazingly pointed out the contradictions: "There's not universal coverage here. The individual mandate is in there and, in fact, there are a slew of taxes that are part of this legislation, including on the Cadillac plans that a lot of union members hold" (video in two parts embedded below the fold with transcript):
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Let me talk about where the public is on this. This was our poll this week, Wall Street Journal/NBC News. Good idea, bad idea, the president's healthcare plan? Forty-seven percent say it's a bad idea, 44 percent say they thought it'd be better to keep the current system. Is the public really for this?
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISOR: I think that there's a big anomaly in the polls that's worth discussing. When you ask people "do you support the bill that's working through Congress, the president's bill" and so on, they give you that result. When you describe what's in the bill, when you describe the fact that there are all kinds of protections for patients and consumers within the system, a, a, a, a patient's bill of rights on steroids, as--we've had that debate for years, are we going to protect patients? When you'd say--when you explain that small businesses are going to get tax credits and assistance so they can offer health insurance, and that individuals who don't get it through work are going to be able to get health insurance at a price they can afford, when you talk about the fact that it reduces deficits, extends the life of Medicare; when you talk about all of those things, people are very strongly supportive. But that's not the picture they've gotten through this kind of narrow debate we've seen on television in Congress.
MR. GREGORY: The fact that you have no Republican votes is striking here for healthcare reform. If you go back to Social Security or the Medicare vote in the '60s, significant Republican support. Is this a failure of leadership, that the president can't get one Republican to support this?
MR. AXELROD: Well, obviously we live in different times. I wish we had the kind of spirit of, of cooperation that you saw in, in past generations. We live in a, a, a different time. As you know, at the beginning of this debate one of the Senate Republicans said, "If we can just defeat this bill, we can inflict a great political loss on the president and that will help us as a party." We shouldn't be thinking in those terms. We should be thinking about the people who can't get insurance today. We should be thinking about the people who get thrown off of insurance because they become seriously ill or go bankrupt because of a serious illness.
MR. GREGORY: But how do you describe...
MR. AXELROD: They will be helped by this legislation. And that's what we should be doing, Republicans and Democrats.
MR. GREGORY: But talk about Republicans. How do you describe, how do you describe and assess the Republican minority in Washington today?
MR. AXELROD: Oh, in what, in what regard? I mean, I think what's clear...
MR. GREGORY: You--do you...
MR. AXELROD: ...is that they, they have adopted a strategy of opposition, and they have not offered alternative--significant alternative ideas, other than to go back to what we've done before. Look, historically these health reforms have been beaten by the special interests, the insurance industry.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: They are trying to defeat it now. The Republican Party historically has stood with the insurance industry in trying to beat back reform. And they're playing that traditional role, and that's a shame.
MR. GREGORY: You've got it not just from the right, but you've also got criticism from the left. There was something of a, of a revolt in the Democratic Party over health care this week, led by former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who we'll be speaking to on the program in just a couple of minutes. And essentially, he said, "This is not reform. And if I were a senator, I would vote against it." How do you react to that?
MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say I respect Howard Dean. I think he's someone who cares passionately about this issue. He's a medical doctor. He--but what--but he just wasn't familiar with some of the aspects of this legislation. He said, for example, that insurance companies could skim off unlimited amounts of money for bonuses and CEO pay and administrative costs. This strictly limits what they can do, and consumers will get rebates if they exceed those limits. And those limits are high and they're reasonable. He said that people would be forced to buy insurance at a price they can afford. There's a hardship exemption in this legislation, no one would have to pay more than 8 percent, be forced to buy a policy for more than 8 percent of their income, and they get all kinds of assistance in terms of tax credits to do so. So I just think when you look at the bill in its totality, it, it doesn't square up with his critique.
MR. GREGORY: But, but look--here--but here's the issues. Look--what liberals say is look at what you gave up along the way: Medicare expansion, a public option. And then go back and look at the president's performance when it came to getting this compromise vs. how he campaigned for health care as a candidate. And I've got a few of the bullet points of campaign promises made: that it--there would be universal coverage when it came to getting healthcare. He opposed an individual mandate, which, of course, is part of this bill. And he indicated this would be paid for by rolling back Bush tax cuts, tax cuts. There's not universal coverage here. The individual mandate is in there and, in fact, there are a slew of taxes that are part of this legislation, including on the Cadillac plans that a lot of union members hold. So can't you understand that the left in this country says, "Hey, this is not how you campaigned"?
MR. AXELROD: No, David. I--what--here's what I see. What I see is a bill that will afford 30, 31 million people who don't have insurance today a chance to get it. It will help small businesses who can't give their employees a chance to get it. It will help people who have insurance so that they have the power in their relationship with their insurance companies. It will reduce--the president talked about reducing this inexorable rise in premiums and in the cost to our budgets. It will do that. It will improve care. I think this is major reform, it's the reform he spoke about. Obviously...
MR. GREGORY: But this is a compromise.
MR. AXELROD: ...in any legislation...
MR. GREGORY: It is not the major reform he talked about.
MR. AXELROD: There is no...
MR. GREGORY: It is different.
MR. AXELROD: ...major piece of legislation that's ever been passed in this country, David, that doesn't include compromise. That's the legislative process. But the question is, in the main, does it achieve what we wanted to achieve? This is--it's not perfect. It--and over time it may be improved, as all legislation is.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think it should be improved?
MR. AXELROD: I, I--well, look, the president had a--the president supported a, a public option. But there are other ways to get competition and choice. You know, we'll see what happens over time.
MR. GREGORY: He supported a public option. He did not fight for it till the end of the day.
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, he made the case again and again for it. But understand, he--this is a small part of a large healthcare reform. The public option was within this health insurance exchange for the 30 million who can't get health care.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: The estimates of the CBO that--is that, you know, about five million people would have availed themselves of it in a country of 300 million.
MR. GREGORY: But here's, here's New York...
MR. AXELROD: Let's not overemphasize it.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. AXELROD: It is important, it's valuable, but so are the reforms that are in there now. There's going to be competition and choice for everyone who doesn't have insurance today. They're going to get it at a price they can afford. And, and we won't have this horrible situation where if you move job--if you change jobs or lose your job, that you find yourself suddenly vulnerable to catastrophe.
MR. GREGORY: I want to press you on one other point that needs to be challenged, it seems to me. The president said this week that this legislation will bend the cost curve. Now, I take that to mean you bend the cost curve, that healthcare costs begin to come down. In fact, in this legislation--and not just those familiar with it, but other experts I've talked to say it's not the case, it will not actually bring costs down. In fact, over a 10-year period, costs will go up. They may be contained, but they are going to go up. Healthcare costs do go up. There are only pilot programs in this legislation, only pilot programs that actually bend the cost curve. This is not reform when it comes to bringing down overall healthcare costs.
MR. AXELROD: Well, I'd say a few things about that. Every--all of the healthcare economists look at the, look at this bill and say it contains many or most or all of the, the sort of major devices that have been talked about for lowering care. The bill--the amendment that was added yesterday will quickly expand these pilot projects as they work nationally. And, you know, you can look at what the CBO has said: it's going to reduce deficits by 132 billion in the first year, by a trillion in the next year, and it's going to slow the advance of health costs and it's going to save thousands of dollars in premiums for the average family over the next decade.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But that's slightly different than saying that healthcare costs are actually going to start coming down.
MR. AXELROD: David, we're going to insure...
MR. GREGORY: And that was the priority initially the president talked about.
I very rarely say this: good job, David. That's more like it!