The Rachel Maddow Show: Calling The Republicans' Bluff On Health Care Reform

Rachel Maddow talks to Rep. Anthony Weiner, who threw down the gauntlet on health care reform, and forced the Republicans to vote on an amendment abol
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Rachel Maddow talks to Rep. Anthony Weiner, who threw down the gauntlet on health care reform, and forced the Republicans to vote on an amendment abolishing Medicare.

Rachel reports on the battle going on between those in Congress who are representing the interests of the insurance companies, and those representing the interests of their constituents.

Maddow: As for the many, many cries against a publicly funded insurance plan, well Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York is all over it. Congressman Weiner has cast himself as the health care version of Clarence the Angel, forcing everyone in Congress to think what life would be like without a very popular, already existing publicly funded health insurance plan.

Congressman Weiner introduced an amendment tonight that would eliminate Medicare. Of course Mr. Weiner didn't actually want Medicare to be eliminated. But he did want to force every conservative on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to have to go on the record that their position on the government run health plan upon which forty three million voters rely. In other words, really Republicans? You're against government funded health care? Care to go on the real record with that? Care to vote to kill Medicare?

Rep. Weiner goes on to explain why his amendment went down in flames and that the Republicans just hate any government run health care, unless it's Medicare and they are forced to say whether they'd really want to get rid of it. He then tells Rachel about a very bold move he's going to make on health care reform.

Weiner: But it does lead us to the next logical step where I need my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to start to come to, and that is not why have a public option, but why have a private option at all? If we know for example that the one experiment we have is very successful in publicly funded health care through Medicare, why do we even need the insurance companies? What constructive role are they playing?

We know they're taking tens of billions of dollars each year and putting it into profits that should be going into health care, so tomorrow I'm going to be taking the next step and offering a true single payer health care plan, and I wanted people today to start to think about, "hey maybe that's the way we do it". It's simpler, and we know that it works.

All I can say is amen brother. I think the Democrats have been wrong not to push for single payer and make the Republicans and Blue Dogs walk back from that. The Republicans are going to try to kill any reform whether it's single payer, or even the compromised position of a public option. I think getting a decent public option in place would lead to single payer, but I don't understand why they started there. If Congressman Weiner is willing to get enough of them on board with him to fight for single payer, and try to get some real reform passed, I'm with him. I guess we'll be finding out how this plays with the leadership shortly.

Full transcript below the fold.

MADDOW: The health care battle going on now in Congress is not fundamentally now a battle between Democrats and Republicans. It more closely approximates a battle between liberals and conservatives, which in today's politics looks a lot like battle between those who represent corporate interests and those who represent a way more populist anti-corporate line.

In this health care fight, conservatives have cast their lot with the insurance and pharmaceutical and other corporate medical companies whose, even if the U.S. health care system is really failing a lot of the rest of the country, it suits those companies just fine, thank you very much.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl, for example, offered this vigorous defense of the health insurance industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: The health insurance industry is the most regulated or one of the most regulated industries in the America. They don't need to be kept honest by a competitor from the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: They don't need to be kept honest? They're fine.

Here's the main political battle line on health care reform: Should the government provide some competition to the health insurance companies to try to lower costs for the people, or not? Conservatives have, in large numbers, chosen: or not-siding with insurance companies to say that everything's pretty much fine the way it is now.

Today, liberals in Congress loudly positioned themselves against that point of view, starting with the top Democrat in Congress, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Insurance companies are out there in full force, carpet bombing, shock and awe against the public option. These are initiatives that are very important in this legislation, and they are to correct what the insurance companies have done to America and to the health of our people over the years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Speaker Pelosi used even stronger language after that press conference, telling reporters, quote, "It is somewhat immoral what they are doing. Of course, they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people they insure. They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way. The public has to know that."

This attempt to make the insurance companies, the corporate interest in health care system the villain in this fight, was foreshadowed by President Obama yesterday, during a town hall event in Raleigh, North Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn't always work well for you. What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance company are held accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Lest you think it's mere coincidence that Democrats are now putting the insurance companies right in the political crosshairs, standing up against the interests in Washington who are alive with those corporate interests, members of Congress' progressive caucus came out in force today with a message that definitely sounds familiar to you by now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is the accountability for the insurance companies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, it's about insurance companies and what they need.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't understand what the insurers are afraid of. They're afraid of the competition. The insurers believe in the market, we believe in the market.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private insurance companies have had decades to provide meaningful reform to our system. They have failed, and Congress must now act boldly in order to save lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, that's the liberal answer to the conservative argument that the health system is fine the way it is and the insurance industry, by the way, is awesome.

As for the many, many cries against a publicly-funded insurance plan, well, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York is all over it. Congressman Weiner has cast himself as the health care version of Clarence the Angel, forcing everyone in Congress to think about what life would be like without a very popular, already existing, publicly funded health insurance plan. Congressman Weiner introduced an amendment tonight that would eliminate Medicare.

Of course, Mr. Weiner didn't actually want Medicare to be eliminated but he did want to force every conservative on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to have to go on the record with their position on the government-run health plan upon which 43 million American voters rely.

In other words, really, Republicans? You're against government-funded health care? Care to go on the real record with that? Care to vote to kill Medicare?

Congressman Anthony Weiner joins us now. He has just stepped outside the hearing room in Congress to join us.

Congressman, thank you so much for coming on the show.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY), NAT'L. HEALTH CARE ACT CO-SPONSOR: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: How did the vote go in your amendment?

WEINER: Well, for some reason, I guess Republicans don't like publicly funded, publicly administered health plans except for Medicare, and, I guess, except for the Veterans Administration and except for the health care that our military gets from the Department of Defense. The fact of the matter is, what we've learned is that government administered health care works pretty darn well. It's got lower overhead and people like it.

So, when my Republican colleagues pound the drum and pound the podium about how they hate government-run health care, I guess they haven't looked at what they get.

MADDOW: When you where deciding about what to do with this amendment, deciding what your role was going to be in health care, what you could do in this committee, did the Medicare idea come to you because you knew it would be an embarrassment? Did you think that any Republicans would actually vote against Medicare?

WEINER: Well, I did. And you should make note that this is the 44th anniversary to the day of the creation of Medicare. But it does lead us to the next logical step where I need colleagues on both sides of the aisle to start to come to. And that is not why have a public option, but why have a private option at all.

If we know, for example, the one experiment we have is very successful, the publicly funded health care through Medicare, why do we even need insurance companies? What constructive role are they playing? We know they're taking tens of billions of dollars each year and putting it into profits that should be going into health care.

So, tomorrow, I'm going to be taking the next step in offering a true single-payer health care plan, and I want people today to start to think about, "Hey, maybe that's the way we do it. It's simpler and we know that it's works."

MADDOW: Why do you think that single-payer hasn't been a prominent option in the table thus far in the health care debate?

WEINER: I think, to some degree, we, on the left, have been a little bit afraid of our own shadow here and we also forgot one thing from the '93-94 debates about health care. You know, people understand the things they have. They want this debate to be simple in the terms that they get.

People understand Medicare. They know their parents have it, their grandparents, they themselves have it. They know that it's sufficient and they know it's not perfect. They know there are gaps that need to be filled but they also know they'd much rather have government or their congressmen be able to call and make those changes than wait on an 800 number or go by shares of stock in order to influence policy.

But right now, we've got a cumbersome plan that is hanging by the thread because it's built on the foundation of private insurance which a lot of people don't like.

MADDOW: When you look at the opposition to moving forward on health care reform, not only just opposition to an idea like single-payer, but opposition to the very idea of significantly changing the system we've got now at all, that opposition is coming not just from Republicans but from conservative Democrats as well.

Do you think it's an ideological liberal conservative split or do you think this is about the influence of the insurance industry and other industries that profit from the system being the way they are now on members of Congress?

WEINER: Well, invariably, in rooms like the one behind me, status quo is probably the most powerful force in Washington. That's particularly true. And that status quo benefits a large industry like the insurance industry.

You know, this notion-and even President Obama says it sometimes, that people like their insurance policy. No, they don't like their insurance policy. I don't know anyone who wakes up in the morning and says, "Boy, I can't wait to dial the 800 number from my local insurance company."

I think what people realize, though, is that, frankly, it's there. And the lobbyists around here work very hard to keep it there. And that's a considerable force.

But there is something of a right/left divide here. I mean, mostly of the problems we have in the Democratic Caucus come from the right side. And, look, they're getting leaned on pretty hard and they're doing what they think is right. But I think it's wrong for the country.

MADDOW: Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York-it was a bold move today in the committee. Thanks very much for joining us to talk about it. Appreciate it.

WEINER: My pleasure. Thank you.

(Originally published Jul 31, 2009 7:15am)

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