Video: Obama’s health care plan on the ropes?

  1. Transcript of: Obama’s health care plan on the ropes?

    MR. GREGORY: All right. I want to turn to domestic affairs, Senator Thompson . Big debate this week is about healthcare , really the core of the president's domestic agenda. Here he was talking about it on Monday, the need for healthcare insurance for all.

    PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Make no mistake, the cost of our healthcare is a threat to our economy . It's an escalating burden on our families and businesses. It's a ticking time bomb for the federal budget and it is unsustainable for the United States of America .

    MR. GREGORY: OK, but then sticker shock in Washington this week when you got some of the price tag of at least a preliminary Senate plan. This was The Washington Post Friday:"In a

    high-level meeting at the White House [Thursday]," the president "conveyed his concern over early pronouncements by the Congressional Budget Office that a bill drafted by the Senate health committee would cost just -- cover just 16 million additional people" -- we've got roughly 50 million uninsured -- "at a cost of $1 trillion, said one official with knowledge of the session. ... `This is not his idea of good, affordable, universal coverage,' said this adviser. The preliminary estimate, pounced on by Republican, `has rattled everyone.'"

    SEN. THOMPSON: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: Is this policy on the ropes?

    SEN. THOMPSON: Yeah. I think, I think the approach that they have come out with is on the ropes. And it's, it's really kind of remarkable. They say they want that by this summer, and yet at this late date they're just now realizing how much some of this is going to cost. And nobody really has any clue. This million dollars doesn't include...

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. THOMPSON: ...very important parts of the, the Kennedy bill, which is what they analyzed, and it only ensures, like, an additional 16 million people out of, out of 45 million . So -- and over in, in the Finance Committee , they got their own sticker shock , 1.6 million on their bill...

    MR. GREGORY: Trillion, trillion.

    SEN. THOMPSON: ...so they're back -- trillion.

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    SEN. THOMPSON: So they're back to the, to the drawing board also. If we're not -- the president has identified the problem , but he's come up with a solution that will exacerbate the problem . If we're not careful, we're going to spend trillions of dollars that we don't have on a medical system that we don't want. We, we -- under the president's plan, we would be putting more and more people on to what essentially would be a Medicare system. Our Medicare system we've got is going broke as it is. It's going to cost more money. The only way to really save costs is to have rationing, and, and that can be done in a free market by free people , there's some things that you can do about that, or it can be done by a cramdown by the government and take it out of the hides of doctors and hospitals. And we know what effect that'll have.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator Nunn , how do you see this? Is this in trouble?

    SEN. NUNN: Fred and I just -- we came from the billion-dollar era. We're in the trillion-dollar era now, so.

    MR. GREGORY: Right, hard to get -- trip over that trillion-dollar figure.

    SEN. NUNN: Yeah. So -- yeah. So we may, we may not be qualified...

    SEN. THOMPSON: I have a hard time getting used to it.

    SEN. NUNN: We may not be able to qualify to discuss this.

    MR. GREGORY: Do you see it differently?

    SEN. NUNN: I think three things. We've got to expand coverage. There is a lot more consensus for that -- business, labor and others -- than there was during the Clinton administration . Two, we've got to pay for it. We didn't pay for the prescription drug bill, which was signed in the last administration, and that is a huge, huge price. We don't have any funding for that. The third point is this bed was on fire in terms of cost control before President Obama jumped into it, as the old pun goes. We were already not able to have a sustainable healthcare system. We were already having cost growth that was basically threatening the stability of our governmental budgets as well as private budgets. And so we've got to deal not only with paying for the new legislation, we've got to come back and see how you put in a framework to reduce the growth of entitlements in America . That's got to be part of the overall -- when you're handing out the cookies and ice cream ...

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. NUNN: ...you've also got to hand out the medicine.

    MR. GREGORY: But look, here's the president making the case that this is an unsustainable system, that if you think we got a bad deficit problem now, it's healthcare costs that'll make it so much worse. That's the argument that he's making. But look at our poll this week, NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll. What's the priority among the American people ? Thirty-five percent say boosting the economy , 58 percent say keeping the budget deficit down. So Senator Nunn , he -- then he comes out and says no, we want to take on healthcare . At this juncture?

    SEN. NUNN: Well, the polls also support, support healthcare , but people want you to do both.

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. NUNN: They want to have broadened healthcare , they want more coverage, but they also want us to find out a way to pay for it. And I think we have to be honest about what it's going to cost, But we have to put our system, our whole system, beyond the new reform, on a track for sustainability, and we have not done that for the last 30 or 40 years. This is not a new problem , but it's a problem that is becoming more acute, particularly as we don't have the savings to finance our own investment and our own consumption, and we're borrowing money by the trillions around the globe.

    MR. GREGORY: Are, are, are conservatives, are Republicans finding their voice now in opposition to this president on this particular issue?

    SEN. THOMPSON: Well, I, I don't know if you'd call it that or not. I, I think that the more people focus on this particular bill, the more the, the lines are going to be drawn as to what's good for our country. And we're talking about a, a sixth of the economy here, basically. And I think it's an opportunity to present some alternatives. In the first place, it's quite apparent that the

    $45 million figure of uninsured is probably about twice the real number of people who can't afford insurance or don't have access to it really, who are not illegal aliens .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. THOMPSON: And you could, you could send vouchers to people like that to cover them. And then get about the problem that, that's at the heart of it that Sam identified, and that that is the exploding costs of, of, of entitlements. Now, the administration has come forth with about 600 billion, it's billion in this case, of, of, of entitlement cuts. If they were there, why hasn't that been done already?

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. THOMPSON: And why can't we start that as a basis of, of reforming our entitlement, which is the heart of the cost problem .

    MR. GREGORY: The, the, the broader economy is a big challenge for this administration, that is clear. Look at this this week, record unemployment across the country; California , Nevada , North Carolina , Oregon , Rhode Island , South Carolina , Florida , Georgia . And we're talking double digits here in California , Nevada and North Carolina , breaking records. Is this, Senator Thompson , an issue that hurts Democrats and this president badly in the mid-term elections next year?

    SEN. THOMPSON: Well, unemployment...

    MR. GREGORY: Is that how it's...

    SEN. THOMPSON: ...unemployment rates at about 10.5 percent...

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    SEN. THOMPSON: ...which is where they might be at, at that point. Yeah, it's going to, it's going to hurt them. I mean, they -- you live or die by the economy . I don't expect -- I think it's unrealistic to expect a, a, a good stimulus package to have that much effect by this period of time, and this is not a good one.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. THOMPSON: Only a, a small fraction of the money is, is out the door, it's not for things that stimulate the economy . I think the American people understand that. On the other hand, the administration's claiming to save jobs at a time that the unemployment rate is going up. So yeah, it's going to be difficult for them next year.

updated 6/22/2009 6:37:25 PM ET 2009-06-22T22:37:25

Democrats are becoming bolder about their idea that middle-class familes get the option of joining a government insurance plan in any overhaul of the health care system. Their fervor carries a risk.

Liberals, citing polls that show support for a public plan, say they are increasingly frustrated with negotiations to make the idea more palatable to Republicans. Moderates, however, warn that abandoning the talks could jeopardize efforts to draft a bill that can pass a closely divided Senate.

"It is important not to draw lines in the sand and rule out options before they are fully explored," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. said Monday. "If we do, we could easily wind up with no viable option at all."

Conrad has proposed creating nonprofit health insurance co-ops as an alternative to a full-blown government plan. His idea was seen as perhaps the last hope for compromise on the issue. But another influential Democrat is complaining that talks with Republicans may be headed for a dead end.

"I don't think I could say with a straight face that this (co-op proposal) is at all close to a nationwide public option," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "Right now, this co-op idea doesn't come close to satisfying anyone who wants a public plan."

Striking a deal
Two recent news media polls have found public support for a government plan, even if many people are unsure about its implications. The most recent survey, a New York Times-CBS News poll released Sunday, found that 72 percent supported the idea, including half of those who identified themselves as Republicans.

House leaders are planning to use the poll results to shore up support for a public plan among moderate Democrats, as three committees hold hearings on legislation this week. In the Senate, divisions over a public plan and concerns about costs are holding up the work of the Finance Committee and may delay Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee as well.

Schumer's role is important because he's been acting as an intermediary between liberal Democrats and moderates who are trying to strike a deal on the issue with Republicans on the Finance Committee. Of the five House and Senate committees working on health care, Finance is the only one that appears to have a chance at reaching a bipartisan agreement. Schumer and Conrad are both Finance members.

Schumer told The Associated Press that negotiation with Republicans have proved frustrating, saying that he and his Democratic colleagues now may have to go it alone on the issue of a public plan.

He said Finance Republicans had rejected several proposals designed to beef up the suggested nonprofit insurance co-ops. These included setting up a national structure for the co-ops, $10 billion in government seed money, power to negotiate payment rates to medical providers nationwide and creation of a presidentially appointed board of directors.

Conrad said nothing has been finalized.

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"Negotiations for a national health care cooperative are ongoing," said Conrad. "The members of the Finance Committee are focused on getting a plan that will pass the committee and be adopted on the floor. "

The contentious issue threatens any remaining prospects of bipartisan support for President Barack Obama's sweeping plan to remake the health care system.

Who's who in the health care debate

Checking the power of insurers
The public plan that most Democrats envision would be offered alongside private plans through a new kind of insurance purchasing pool called an exchange. Individuals and small businesses would be able to buy coverage through exchanges, but eventually businesses of any size might be able to join.

Proponents say having a public plan in the marketplace would put a brake on costs and check the power of insurers. But Republicans, insurers and many business leaders say the government could drive private insurance companies out of business.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., Cantor, said Monday that "a government plan, no matter what you call it, will increase costs" and limit choices. He spoke on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Obama also has been sending signals that he's ready to draw a line. He recently said that if Congress wants a bipartisan bill, it's up to House and Senate Republicans.

It's unclear when Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., will unveil his proposal. Initial cost estimates well above their 10-year, $1 trillion target forced senators to start over.

The next few weeks will be critical. Democrats want to push ahead as far as they can before the July 4 congressional recess. Over the break, comments from constituents could determine whether Congress sticks to its goal of passing legislation this summer. 

More on  Health care

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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