Sen. John McCain told CNN's John King that he's not in favor of a public health insurance option because he believes it would lead to a government tak
August 2, 2009

Sen. John McCain told CNN's John King that he's not in favor of a public health insurance option because he believes it would lead to a government takeover of health care. "[Public option proposals] remind us all of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So I've not seen a public option that meets the test of what would not eventually lead to a government takeover," said McCain.

McCain believes that President Obama has failed the test of bipartisanship and the "Blue Dogs" will eventually "roll over a play dead" on their opposition to health care reform.

Update. Transcript below the fold.

KING: I want to move to the big debate at the moment in the country, which is health care. And we will spend some time on the "what," the policy disputes and disagreements. But I want to start first with the "when," the "when."

The president says this has to be done this year. Is that right? Do you accept that timetable?

MCCAIN: I think, clearly, by not acting before the August recess, it gives us all more time to have debate and discussion across the country. I think that it's important that we all recognize we want to fix health care, that it needs to be repaired. The question is -- is how.

And the fundamental contradiction we have between the two parties is that we believe the quality of health care is the best in the world and must be preserved. It's the cost that's the problem.

The Democrats believe that you've got to change the entire health care system in America, including the so-called government option, which we believe would be -- lead to a government takeover of the health care system in America. That's why we've had so much trouble reconciling differences even though we share a common goal of fixing health care in America.

KING: Well, let's try to reconcile some of the differences. And let me start with the process that's in place. You have several Republicans, friends of yours, Chuck Grassley from Iowa, also in the room, in the Finance Committee negotiations. If they come out, the three or four Republicans in those negotiations come out say, "We have a deal that's acceptable to us," does that automatically make it acceptable to John McCain?

MCCAIN: It does not. But to their great credit, Senators Enzi, Grassley and Snowe have been in constant communication with the rest of us. So that's been very helpful. And so far, they have -- and I'm confident they will keep us heavily engaged as they go through this process.

KING: What's the pressure on them?

Because, as you know, many Republicans see this as a great political opportunity. The president's back on his heels for probably the first time in the administration, and you've had terms like "Waterloo," "go for the kill." What kind of pressure do those Republicans face from some Republicans who don't want a deal?

MCCAIN: I think they face pressures from both sides, to be honest with you. Part of the problem sometimes is you get the Stockholm Syndrome...


... and all of a sudden you become negotiators for the sake of negotiations and a result, no matter what that result is. So far that hasn't happened.

Look, I think, over the August recess, all of us can come home, have town hall meetings, discuss with our constituents and hopefully come back and work more closely together. But there still is these irreconcilable differences that I mentioned before.

But, yes, I think the pressures are very intense in both directions, both from people who do not want an agreement, at least the kind that's being considered, and that -- look, I've been in these negotiations. There's enormous pressure to come out with a result.

KING: Well, let's follow up on that very point. Because, right now, in the House, certainly, and to most you ask in the Senate, they say it's not a truly bipartisan process, even though a handful, two or three of your colleagues are in that room.

In the past, we have had bills like McCain-Feingold, campaign finance; McCain-Kennedy on immigration. Is there a role for John McCain, somebody who the American people trust on a lot of these issues, when it comes to spending and the role of government to step in here?

And is there somebody who could -- is there a circuit breaker, if you will, to turn this debate from what has been mostly partisan to something bipartisan?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, unfortunately, there was no input by Republicans in the writing of if bill. In the HELP Committee, it was all a Democrat proposal. That's not the way you want to begin if you're really interested in true bipartisan result.

Maybe we can go back, and all of us -- and I'd be glad to play a role.

MCCAIN: I have been playing a small role on the committee. And I'd be glad to try and help. But it's got to be a true sit down, OK, what are you going to concede? What are you going to concede? How we can come together? Not, here's the plan, how can we fix it so it satisfy enough of you to call it "bipartisan." that's a huge difference.

KING: Just before the inauguration, the president had a dinner in your honor and said you're an American hero and a guy who reached across the aisle, and that is the tone he wanted to set when he came to Washington. On this point, has he failed the test he laid out at that dinner to be truly bipartisan?

MCCAIN: I'm afraid they have. And look, they got the votes. We understand that. They had the votes in the stimulus package and the budget and the omnibus, all this legislation, and they have picked off sometimes two or three Republicans.

But that's not changing the climate in Washington. What that is is exercising a significant majority. And so I respect their successes, but please don't call it changing the climate in Washington. Republicans did it when they were in the majority, Democrats have done it when they're in the majority.

KING: Yet, they have the votes, you're right, they have nearly 80-seat majority in the House, they have 60 now in the Senate, if the two Independents stay with them, and yet they're having a problem. To what do you attribute that? Having watched many of these big things over the year, some in the president's own party say because he's not getting his dirty, because he's not leading, he's not going into the House saying no, don't do this, that won't sell in the Senate, let's do that, is that true?

MCCAIN: First of all, the passage of the stimulus package and the huge deficit associated with that, I think, harmed their ability to move forward with health care because that's another $1 trillion in the view of the CBO. So that gave them a certain handicap. But I think the other thing is -- an aspect of it is that the president has laid out some ideas.

But I think the president has got to be more specific in the -- when we come down to exactly what these proposals are. And I don't think he's done that. And in his speeches and his health care meetings, he's talked about the things that are wrong and need to be fixed, but he's not been more descriptive of what we need to do. I think they may have over learned the lesson of Clinton proposal of '93 where they were totally specific proposals, now there's not enough. At this point I think the administration, the president has to be more specific.

KING: Fear can be a motivating force in politics, especially in compromise. Back in the day, Ronald Reagan was feared because people knew the bond he had with the American people. So even the Democrats would sometimes go along with him or make a deal. Bill Clinton stymied Republicans all the time because he was a effective communicator. After 9/11, nobody in these halls would stand up to George W. Bush in those early days because of the strength the president had. Is President Obama feared?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think we all recognize, I don't know if the word is fear, or even in this other instance that as you cited, but there's no doubt that this is a very effective president of the United States. He's an excellent communicator. He has sizable majorities in both houses of Congress. So I would never count anybody out in health care or anything else when you have these sizable majorities.

I think they will renew the push after the August recess. The question is, are there going to be really bipartisan efforts or just pick off a couple of Republicans? And the blue dogs, they always bark, they never bite, they almost always rollover and then play dead.

KING: That's a couple more specifics here. The public option, off the table for John McCain period? Or is there some kind of a public option, maybe the rural co-ops like Senator Conrad has talked about, something like that. Is there a viable public option that could get your vote?

MCCAIN: I've not seen one. The co-ops remind us all of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So I've not seen a public option that in my view meets the test of what would really not eventually lead to a government takeover.

Can you help us out?

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