Video: 'I think we'll have the votes'

  1. Transcript of: 'I think we'll have the votes'

    SEC'Y KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Thank you. Nice to be here.

    MR. GREGORY: Endgame time, the president talked about it in his remarks this week. This is what he said.

    PRES. OBAMA: Every idea has been put on the table. Every argument has been made. Everything there is to say about health care has been said, and just about everybody has said it.

    MR. GREGORY: He said it with a smile, but he's making a serious point. This is really the end of

    the line for the debate. And here are two facts: Most people who have health insurance like what they have, and a majority of Americans oppose this president's version of healthcare reform . So how, realistically, do you get this done?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: Well, I think, David , what we're hearing from people across America is that even people who have insurance are terrified about what's going on in the marketplace. They're opening their statements, they're seeing these incredible rate increases, if they're not protected by a large employer, going on across the country. We just got a Goldman Sachs analyst who said that the market competition is decreasing in this country, that in the individual market, in the small group market where small employers are absolutely caught, they have no choice; and they are getting increasingly frustrated. So I think we know what doing nothing looks like, and it looks pretty scary. Fifteen thousand people a day lose their insurance, and some of those folks are being actually priced out of the marketplace.

    MR. GREGORY: But, and that's usually the basis for the president saying the American people don't want us to wait. But where is the evidence of that? Certainly, we can all talk to people who don't like their situation, who are worried or are going through very difficult times. But, again, a fact is that a majority of Americans , after everybody has said everything, as the president said, don't support this administration's version of reform.

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: Well, I think if you say, "Do you want," you know, "some massive bill," that people are a little unclear about what's in it given the amount of misinformation. They say, you know, "We don't know. We're, we're unsure." You say, "Do you want rules to change for insurance companies ? Do you want them to have to compete in the marketplace? Do you want some oversight? Do you want some consumer protection ?" They say absolutely yes. "Do you want a different marketplace where people can have some choice and competition just like the members of Congress have?" Absolutely yes. You know, I had a meeting last week with five of the largest insurance company CEOs , and we talked to them about what in the world is going on, how in the world does somebody like Ms. Canfield , who the president cited, who's paying $6,000 in premiums, she's paid $4,000 out of pocket, her premiums went up 25 percent last year. The company, on her behalf -- she's put $10,000 of her own money on the table. The company paid out about $900 in bills, and she just got a rate increase of 40 percent. How in the world does that work? How does that math work? And, frankly, we didn't get very good answers from the insurance companies .

    MR. GREGORY: And you're pushing for more answers, for more transparency.

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: You bet. You bet.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, what do you hope to achieve out of that?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: Well, I think at the very least, the American public has to understand what is going on. What are the justifications for rate increases which are so far ahead of medical trends? How much are the companies collecting in overhead profits? How much are they paying their CEOs ? And how much are they actually paying in medical trends? The insurance execs said to me, you know, "It's all about costs, and we're just sort of passing along costs." But that's not what their profit statements say. When profits go up 50 percent from '09 to -- I mean, '08 to '09, when they file $12.7 billion worth of profits and then turn around and say, "We need 40 percent rate increases," 60 percent in Illinois , we need at least to shine a bright light until we pass health reform and change the rules.

    MR. GREGORY: Let me bring you back to the here and now. I've spoken recently to a top ally of the president on healthcare reform who thinks there's about a 40 percent chance, ultimately, of getting this done. Where do you put the odds?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: I think we'll have the votes to pass comprehensive health reform . A bill has passed the House with a majority, a bipartisan majority. A bill has passed the Senate with a supermajority. That's never been done before. What we're talking about, as the president said, is finishing the job. And the urgency, the timetable is not about some congressional time clock , it's about what's happening across this country to Americans .

    MR. GREGORY: Well, but...

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: It's about the squeeze.

    MR. GREGORY: ...but this, this is Washington ; it is about a time clock for Congress . You have set deadlines before and they have slipped. Is a new deadline, the Easter recess, if it's not done by that point, will the president return to it?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: I think that we have to act on behalf of the American people . I hear from folks all over this country. I talked to a dad in Chicago whose son, 11-year-old, healthy, bright, came -- coming back from a soccer tournament , but born with a heart defect. He had an operation at a month old, an operation when he was three. This father, who is self-employed, runs a small consulting company, is paying $30,000 a year in health insurance premiums and doesn't know what happens next, needs some control over his own health security, over his family's security.

    MR. GREGORY: Understood, point taken. My question is does this have to be accomplished by March 18th , by the, by the Easter recess if it's going to get done?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: I think the president has called for an up or down vote. I'm confident that we'll have that up or down vote, and I'm...

    MR. GREGORY: You won't set a deadline, though?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: I, I have not set a deadline. That's really up to the leadership of Congress .

    MR. GREGORY: But if it's not passed by the April break, is it realistic that it ever comes back?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: Well, I think it's realistic because the American people are desperate for something to happen.

    MR. GREGORY: So the president would come back to it if it doesn't get done by the break?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: David , I think what's going on around the country argues for a...

    MR. GREGORY: But I'm just trying to pin you down. I think this is an important point about when it gets done,

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: Well...

    MR. GREGORY: ...because the legislative calendar does influence policy.

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: Well -- right. But the time clock is not about, again, a congressional ticktock. What Americans want is something to be done, that's what I hear. You know, as a former governor, governors work on a very specific timetable, they have to pass budgets, the legislature goes out of, out of session. We've got to get things moving because there's an urgency about what's happening in people's lives. And we're at the final chapter here.

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: We need an up or down vote.

    MR. GREGORY: Final stab -- yes, no or maybe? Do you get passage by the Easter break?

    SEC'Y SEBELIUS: I think we'll have the votes when the leadership decides it's time to call for the vote, and I think health reform 'll pass.

updated 3/7/2010 1:09:29 PM ET 2010-03-07T18:09:29

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that health care reform would have been "dead on arrival" if the White House had sent a finished proposal to Congress last year.

The secretary also blamed delays in passing the measure on President Barack Obama having to spend "far too much time talking about what's not in the bill" and trying to counter "wild accusations" by Republicans.

Under a new push to get the measure through Congress, Obama set a March 18 deadline for the House to pass the Senate version of the legislation before he leaves on a trip to Asia.

Sebelius said she thought the deadline would hold but indicated the president would not walk away from the key agenda item of his presidency should the House not act by then.

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She said Obama still hoped for some Republican votes on the health care bill, "but I'm not sure there will be."

The fundamental conflict, she said, centers on Republican beliefs that "insurance companies should have less regulation than they do now, less consumer protection, less oversight."

Republicans argue that the Obama plan amounts to a government takeover of the U.S. health care industry and would increase an already burgeoning budget deficit.

Another stumbling block for House passage has arisen with renewed objections by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., over what he sees as federal funding for abortion in the Senate bill. The White House and most of those who support the measure insist that is not true.

Sebelius says "conversations will continue" if necessary to overcome Stupak objections. He has insisted on a House-passed plan that says no health insurance plan receiving federal subsidies can pay for abortion, except under exceptions already allowed by federal law.

Sebelius appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week".

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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