Video: Schumer: Close to 60 votes for health bill

  1. Transcript of: Schumer: Close to 60 votes for health bill

    GREGORY: Let me turn to the healthcare debate and the issue of the public option . Here's where the public stands on the idea of a government -run plan that would be alongside private insurance to drive down costs: 61 percent of Americans support the idea of a public option .

    Senator Schumer , you're very involved in this. Will the final bill on healthcare reform have a public option ?

    SEN. SCHUMER: I believer Leader Reid is leaning strongly to putting a level playing field , state opt-out public option in the bill. He's been...

    GREGORY: Explain just for a second how that would actually work.

    SEN. SCHUMER: OK. There are some, many of my colleagues on the Democratic side, who would like to see it be a much more government -oriented program; the government sets the rates, a Medicare rate or Medicare Plus 5, you're forced to take it, etc. What I've been proposing is something a little more in the middle. The government would set it up. We need some competition for the insurance companies , and many of us believe this is the only way to get real competition. But then after three months, where they give it some money to get going, it would have to play by the same rules as the insurance companies , the same rates, the same reserves, the same requirements.

    GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. SCHUMER: It would have to pay the loan back over a period of years and, most importantly -- and people are worried about this, some, anyway, many -- it would negotiate rates with the providers just like an insurance company . But in states where there is only one insurance company or two -- 40, 40 of the 50 states , two insurance companies dominate the market. The only real way or one of the best real ways to bring costs down is a new entity competing.

    GREGORY: OK.

    SEN. SCHUMER: The insurance company industry will not do it on its own.

    GREGORY: And the point is...

    SEN. SCHUMER: The government would. And it's -- and the one other thing I'd say, and this is really important: You're not required to take the government option . It's not a government plan being forced on people. That was the rhetoric in August. It's an option .

    GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. SCHUMER: If you don't like your -- the private insurance, go to the public option .

    GREGORY: All right.

    SEN. SCHUMER: If you like the private insurance, stick with it. But even there, the public option will force them to be a little better.

    GREGORY: But you don't -- well, well, where are the votes? Conservative Democrats , Olympia Snowe , are they going to sign up for this?

    SEN. SCHUMER: OK, Leader Reid -- and there's nobody better at counting the votes than he is, he's a wizard at it and people don't give him enough credit for it...

    GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. SCHUMER: ...and I and others have been talking to liberal Democrats , moderate Democrats , conservative Democrats . The liberals, they like it stronger, but they're willing to live with level playing field , opt-out. The more moderate Democrats , there are some who actually like it. As long as it's a level playing field , they're comfortable with it. There are others who say that, "I'm not sure I like it, but I won't hold up passage of the bill." I think we're very close to getting the 60 votes we need to move forward, and my guess is that the public option level playing field with the state opt-out will be in the bill. But Leader Reid will make that decision after he talks to everybody several times.

    GREGORY: That's an important development. You believe the Democrats are close to 60 votes in the Senate for healthcare reform .

    SEN. SCHUMER: Correct. Correct.

    GREGORY: Senator Cornyn , can you with live this idea?

    SEN. CORNYN: David ...

    GREGORY: Would you vote for it?

    SEN. CORNYN: David , the majority leader is a, is a good vote counter, but I think even he was surprised when 13 Democrats voted with the Republicans to reject $300 billion in additional red ink in the form of the Medicare reimbursements for doctors vote that occurred last week. I think the majority are recognizing that he has big problems keeping Democrats together, much less attracting Republicans to vote for it. And the reason is we have maxed out our credit card as a government . We are at a $12 trillion debt limit; for the second time in the Obama administration the Democrats are going to ask Congress to vote to increase the -- that debt limit.

    GREGORY: Who do you blame for that, by the way?

    SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah. Good question.

    SEN. CORNYN: Well, I think $1.1 trillion in stimulus spending. Forty-three cents out of every dollar being spent being borrowed money today; with a healthcare proposal which has phony assumptions and that will never occur, like $500 billion in Medicare cuts which actually won't solve the problem of reducing premiums, but will rather increase premiums for people currently with insurance and will impose a tax on middle-class taxpayers. I mean, this is a bad formula. We could, I think, create good competition if you allowed people to purchase insurance policies in other states...

    SEN. SCHUMER: David , I just...

    GREGORY: All right.

    SEN. CORNYN: ...rather than the public option , which is a Trojan horse for a single-payer system.

    SEN. SCHUMER: I want to say something about those costs.

    GREGORY: OK, quick response, then I want to move on. OK.

    SEN. SCHUMER: Because you, you have to -- let's talk reality here. We're trying, in our healthcare bill, to have it paid for so it doesn't raise the deficit a nickel. When they had the big Medicare increase, $400 billion, they didn't even try to pay for it . We're trying to pay. We've said we will pay for the war in Afghanistan . One trillion dollars, war in Iraq , they didn't pay a nickel for it. The debt in January, when George Bush left, voted for by lock, stock and barrel with all the Republicans was much, much greater. Now Barack Obama and we Democrats , this is counterintuitive but true, are really trying to get a handle on balancing the budget and we're making real efforts to do it. That's why health care is more limited than people would want it to be. And we -- they say, "Well, it's not good enough." Well, join us and help us. But you sure didn't try to make it all good when you were in power.

    SEN. CORNYN: Well, David , I hope the Democrats will join with us to, to pass real entitlement reform to deal with these growing deficits. Senator Conrad , Senator Gregg have a proposal, Senator Feinstein and I have a proposal that was referenced by 10 moderate Democrats who wrote a letter to Harry Reid this last week saying don't count on us as an automatic vote for raising the debt ceiling unless you're going to deal with these deficits and the growing part of spending.

updated 10/25/2009 5:27:48 PM ET 2009-10-25T21:27:48

Businesses would not be required to provide health insurance under legislation being readied for Senate debate, but large firms would owe significant penalties if any worker needed government subsidies to buy coverage on their own, according to Democratic officials familiar with talks on the bill.

For firms with more than 50 employees, the fee could be as high as $750 multiplied by the total size of the work force if only a few workers needed federal aid, these officials said. That is a more stringent penalty than in a bill that recently cleared the Senate Finance Committee, which said companies should face penalties on a per-employee basis.

These officials also said individuals would generally be required to purchase affordable insurance if it were available, and face penalties if they defied the requirement.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the private negotiations involving key Senate Democrats and the White House. They also stressed that no final decisions have been made on the details of the measure, expected to reach the Senate floor in about two weeks.

Coverage expanded to millions
In general, the bill taking shape in private talks led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is designed to answer President Barack Obama's call to remake the nation's health care system. It would expand coverage to millions who lack it, ban insurance industry practices such as denial of coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and slow the growth in medical spending nationally.

Like a companion measure in the House, it would create a new federally regulated marketplace, termed an exchange, where individuals and families could purchase insurance sold by private industry. Federal subsidies would be available to help those at lower incomes afford the cost.

Subsidies would also be available to smaller businesses as an incentive for them to provide insurance.

Nominally, Reid's task is to meld bills already approved by the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In reality, however, he has a virtual free hand in coming up with a measure, with a goal of amassing a 60-vote majority to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster.

Reid has told fellow senators he is strongly considering including a provision for a government-run insurance plan in the bill as a way to assure consumers have a choice and to create competition for private companies. States would be permitted to drop out under the plan.

That is a somewhat weaker version than the HELP Committee voted for, but the Finance Committee omitted any federal role in the sale of coverage in favor of nonprofit co-ops competing with private industry.

The issue is the most contentious in the effort to overhaul the nation's health care system, and it is not known whether Reid has the 60 votes for his plan.

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Drive for 60 votes close to success
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a leading advocate for a government-run insurance provision, said on NBC's Meet The Press he thought the drive for 60 votes was close to success.

One critic, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said on CNN he was not enthusiastic with the proposal, but did not rule out giving Reid his vote on a key procedural vote.

"Well, I certainly am not excited about a public option where states would opt out. ... I'll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves," he said.

Numerous other issues are involved in the bill.

The requirement for individuals to purchase insurance would include provisions to exempt individuals or families unable to find affordable coverage. Those who are obligated to buy coverage and refuse would face a fine of perhaps $100 in the first year of the program.

There is no penalty for individuals in the first year of the program in the Senate Finance Committee bill, a provision inserted at the request of Sen. Olympia Snowe. The Maine Republican is the only member of her party in either house of Congress to vote for a Democratic-backed health care bill in committee this year.

CHIP to remain stand-alone program
The switch Reid is considering is an attempt to increase the number of people with insurance, a key goal of the legislation.

Officials familiar with the Senate negotiations said the bill is likely to maintain a federal health care program for lower-income children as a stand-alone program, rather than folding it into the broad national insurance exchange. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is an ardent proponent of the arrangement and did not announce publicly he would vote for the Senate Finance Committee bill until after his proposal was approved.

The legislation is also expected to include an option for states to negotiate with private industry to provide group coverage for lower income residents. The proposal is backed by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and patterned after a program in her home state.

Reid is also searching for ways to scale back a tax on high-cost insurance policies approved by the Senate Finance Committee. Organized labor strongly opposes the proposal, and the House bill is not expected to include it.

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

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