ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson Still Touting Universal Health Care

"Good Morning America" medical expert Dr. Tim Johnson on Friday gave ex-Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle a forum to promote his calls for a government run health care system. Co-host Robin Roberts made it clear in an introduction to the segment that there would be no discussion of the tax problems that forced Daschle to withdraw his nomination. Johnson, however, did offer softballs about what might have been. He cooed, "How hard is it for you to be sitting somewhat on the sidelines, compared to what you would have done?"

The medical doctor also agitated for quick action on a universal health care bill. Johnson extolled, "We hear constantly, if health care isn't done this year, politically, it's going to be impossible...Do you agree?" In a break from past cheerleading for government run health care, the medical expert actually asked a few challenging questions of the former Democratic senator. He asserted, "Most Americans will say they're for health care reform. But they don't want to pay any more for their health care. Or very little more. Can you have health care reform without increasing, overall, the costs for individual Americans?" Johnson also brought up Republican opposition to the legislation.

On October 19, 2007, the ABC News correspondent queried then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "Do you think the Republicans who are against [universal health care] are immoral?" On April 26, 2007, GMA co-host Robin Roberts introduced a Johnson segment on a new congressional health care bill by Ted Kennedy. She enthused, "You’re very happy about this. You say it's bold and politically brilliant."

On the September 24, 1993 edition of "20/20," Johnson praised, ""I say the Clintons are almost heroes in my mind for finally facing up to the terrible problems we have with our current health care system and bringing it to the attention of the public."

To read a round-up of Johnson's past lobbying for universal health care, see an October 8, 2008 NewsBusters posting.

A transcript of the April 24, 2009 segment, which aired at 7:14am, follows:

ROBIN ROBERTS: Next week, though, marks 100 days in office for President Obama. He has made it clear that health care reform is a big priority. We have an exclusive interview with the man who was once President Obama's top choice to overhaul health care, former Senator- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. He took himself out of the running after a controversy over his taxes, a controversy he did not discuss in the interview But what he did offer our medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson, his views on health care reform.

ABC GRAPHIC: Health Care for All Americans? The Man Who Wants Reform Now

DR. TIM JOHNSON: Since your withdraw, how closely are you involved with the White House? With Preside Obama? With your colleagues in the Senate?

FORMER SENATOR TOM DASCHLE (D-SD): Well, I would like to think we're still very close. We talk with some frequency. They are very involved, of course, on a day-to-day basis on Capitol Hill. And to a large extent, I'm still able to talk with my former colleagues, as well as those with whom I would have worked at the department. So, still quite engaged.

JOHNSON: How hard is it for you to be sitting somewhat on the sidelines, compared to what you would have done?

DASCHLE: Well, it's hard in some ways. I'm more free now. I'm a little more flexible. So, the freedom I have to get around the country and passionately argue for things I believe in regarding health reform is a plus. So, there's pluses and minuses.

JOHNSON: We hear constantly, if health care isn't done this year, politically, it's going to be impossible. That is next year's an election year. Can't be done. It's this year or never, or at least for a long time. Do you agree?

DASCHLE: Well, I think there is unfortunately, a good deal of support and validity to that argument.

JOHNSON: How committed is President Obama to this issue? He has got so much on his plate. So much money he's talking about. Is he still committed to this?

DASCHLE: I don't think there's any doubt that President Obama feels as strongly about this as any issue before him today. I believe he believes this is a key part of his legacy as President of the United States.

JOHNSON: Let's talk about a couple controversial issues that are already on the table and being hotly debated. Number one, the whole issue of a public plan, which President Obama talked about during his campaign. A Medicare-like plan. As you know, the private health insurance industry is fighting this tooth and nail. They say they can't compete. Senator Grassley and many other Republicans have said it's a deal-breaker. Yet, the hard-core people on the other side say without it, we have no health care reform. What's going to happen to the public plan idea?

DASCHLE: It's extremely popular where with the American people. So, there's a lot of reasons to support it. The insurance companies oppose it. And whether or not we can come to some compromise in some way with which to resolve this difference, remains to be seen.

JOHNSON: Most Americans will say they're for health care reform. But they don't want to pay any more for their health care. Or very little more. Can you have health care reform without increasing, overall, the costs for individual Americans?

DASCHLE: If we can't tell the American people that we are truly going to reduce the growth of costs in health care today, we will not have solved this problem.

JOHNSON: And the minute you say you're going to control costs, or cut costs in health care, you are talking about real people, with real jobs, in this segment of the economy that's the only growth segment right now. How do you address that political problem?

DASCHLE: Obviously, job loss could be a factor. But if we have reduced our administrative costs, if we have eliminated unnecessary care, if we've eliminated a lot of the medical mistakes because we're using best practices and greater efficiency, that's a cost savings. All those cost savings is what exactly the American people want to see.

ROBERTS: And Tom Daschle also has a new book on the issue called "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org