Following Sen. Mitch McConnell's appearance on Meet the Press where McConnell was insisting that Paul Ryan's plan to dismantle Medicare and turn it into a voucher system was "on the table" during these budget negotiations, David Gregory did his best
May 29, 2011

Following Sen. Mitch McConnell's appearance on Meet the Press where McConnell was insisting that Paul Ryan's plan to dismantle Medicare and turn it into a voucher system was "on the table" during these budget negotiations, David Gregory did his best to pressure Sen. Chuck Schumer into saying that Democrats should give them some political cover and help them do it.

Much to Gregory's dismay, Schumer wasn't willing to play along. Nothing like Gregory playing the good little water carrier for Republicans week after week on Meet the Press. The Republicans stepped in it by going along with Ryan's plan and the press is going to do what they can to try to paint them wanting to turn Medicare into a voucher system as somehow being brave or courageous rather than just craven.


MR. GREGORY: Senator, let's get back to this issue of Medicare and the question that I asked Leader McConnell, is this the new third rail of American politics, you simply can't touch it? Is that the legacy of this race in upstate New York?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, you can try to end it--excuse me--and that's what they're trying to do in the Ryan budget. You heard Senator McConnell, he says even after the election in the 26th he's comfortable with the Ryan budget. You see The Wall Street Journal writing no retreat on Medicare. Newt Gingrich gets attacked because he says the Ryan plan is wrong. Look, the only way we're going to come to an agreement on the budget and the debt ceiling is if Senator McConnell and his Republican colleagues take the Ryan plan off the table, and take it of now. It is wrong...

MR. GREGORY: But it is off--but, Senator, it is off the table. It failed in the Senate. Look, you, you've got a reality here as Democrats where your hometown newspaper The New York Times this morning talks about the high price of timidity of the Democrats on Medicare. And here was, as Senator McConnell referred to, former President Clinton speaking about the deficit and Medicare this week. He, he had a warning for Democrats, and this is what he said.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

PRES. CLINTON: And I'm afraid that the Democrats will draw the conclusion that, because Congressman Ryan's proposal I think is not the best one, that we shouldn't do anything. And I completely disagree with that.

(End videotape)

SEN. SCHUMER: And, and I agree with President Clinton. Every Democrat--from the president, Steny Hoyer, President Clinton, Senate Democrats--we agree that Ryan should be taken off the table, that it's a complete stumbling block. And is--and I am calling on--we are calling on Senator McConnell not to cling to the Ryan plan as he's doing, which ends Medicare as we know it, but to take it off the table.

Now, what do we propose? We have been proposing changes in Medicare for a while, but we believe in preserving the current system. Medicare delivers a very good product. Most people are very happy with the health care they get. It's just an inefficient system. And there are ways that you can change the way Medicare delivers things without cutting the benefits to individuals, and still save hundreds of billions of dollars. Anyone who has gone through the Medicare system knows the inefficiencies and duplications in that system because it's a cost-plus system. We began this a year ago, and the Republicans attacked us for it. They attacked us because they wanted a radical--now we know why. They want to radically changed Medicare.

MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, wait. But let's...

SEN. SCHUMER: But let me tell you, let me tell you, David...


SEN. SCHUMER: ...a few things that we're proposing...

MR. GREGORY: Wait, hold on.

SEN. SCHUMER: ...which would save...

MR. GREGORY: Before you do that, before you do that.


MR. GREGORY: Waste, fraud and abuse is the typical handle of any politician talking about how to bring prices down. Let's take one example in Medicare, which is, as part of the president's healthcare reform, that you're not going to do hospital reimbursements at the same level. That could save you some money. But that's a big if. That assumes that that actually stays as part of the law and that future congresses have the courage to maintain that, which they have not had when it come to, to cutting payments for doctors over the years.


MR. GREGORY: So there's a lot of built-in savings that don't really get to the core of the problem, which is that the program is unsustainable.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me tell you what is the core problem. The core of the problem is basically two things: one, that providers get away with much too much, and many of them were given too many things. For instance, if Medicare negotiated the price of prescription drugs, was allowed to--Republicans prevented that from happening a few years ago--but negotiated the price of prescription drugs with the drug companies, we'd save over $100 billion. Second, if--there's something called duel eligibles. A senior citizen who's on Medicare and Medicaid, they used to--Medicare used to pay the Medicaid cost of the drug, much lower. Republicans said no, pay the Medicare cost, another 100 billion.

But here's the root of the problem. The root of the problem is it's a cost-plus system. When a--when you're sick, the doctor gets paid for each service, each prescription, each pill, each test. If you were to tell doctors you get a certain amount of money to treat Jim Smith, who has a certain form of diabetes, say $10,000, every study shows that you'd save hundreds of billions of dollars without cutting the benefits to people. That's what Democrats stand for. And the reason our Republican colleagues resist is they don't want the present Medicare system to be preserved.

MR. GREGORY: Well, but here--but, Senator...

SEN. SCHUMER: That is what they're--that is why it is...

MR. GREGORY: But the political temptation...

SEN. SCHUMER: Mm-hmm. Party...

MR. GREGORY: The political temptation here is for Democrats to simply use this as a tactic to do what they did in, in New York, in the upstate race, and to prevail by saying, essentially, Republicans want to take away health care. Look, Bill Clinton, who looked at this, and obviously understands and wants to preserve Medicare, warned Democrats not to do nothing.


MR. GREGORY: Again, The New York Times, let me just read this, on Thursday, editorialized this way.


MR. GREGORY: The headline, "Running on Medicare the Right Way: Democrats cannot spend their entire campaign attacking Ryan's budget plan." It goes on to say, "Bill Clinton was right on Wednesday to warn his party that it must bring down those costs if it is to have any credibility on the deficit and the economy." So I want to ask you a broader question. Is there a danger for Democrats in not seriously engaging on Medicare as being seen as abdicating responsibility on really fighting the deficit writ large?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I don't know a single Democrat who is saying do nothing. That is Mitch McConnell's way of diverting attention from the Ryan plan, which he refuses to take off the table, which is highly unpopular.

The bottom line is very simple. We already proved our bona fides in last year's bill, where we, where we extended Medicare's life by 12 years by doing some of the things that I talked about there on delivery system reform. And we're going to continue to do that. There's a choice here--there are three choices. One is to do nothing. One is to preserve the benefits but change the delivery systems and not let some of the providers, like the drug companies, get away with so much. And one is to end Medicare as we know it. Democrats are in the second one, Republicans are on the third one.

Until Mitch McConnell abandons the third one, we are not going to get a budget deficit agreement. It's that simple. And I got--was in touch with Bill Clinton last night. He agrees completely with what I said. There's no difference between Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Steny Hoyer, Chuck Schumer, Senate and House Democrats. The difference is between us and Republicans. They want to end Medicare as we know it. If you turn it over to a pure system where the--where the insurance companies govern, here's what happens according to CBO, nonpartisan: the beneficiaries, instead of paying 25 percent, pay 68 percent. But at the same time, the costs don't go down, they continue to rise because the insurance companies pass the costs to the beneficiaries. That is wrong. That is not politics, I would say to my dear friend Senator McConnell. That is what America's all about. And we will, we will oppose them in the budget negotiations if they don't abandon Ryan, and it will legitimately be one of the major issues of the election year in 2012.

And I'll tell you one other thing, David. If--I've studied elections for awhile, and if either party moves too far to the extreme, they lose. Republicans are rapidly moving in that direction, to an extreme direction, by ending Medicare as we know it; by saying in their budget they'd cut things like cancer research and aid to help middle class kids get to school; by even opposing something like a Lautenberg Amendment, which says if you buy a gun, you should be checked on a terrorist watch list to see that you're not a terrorist. And if they continue this way, not only will we keep the Senate, but we're very likely to pick up the House.

MR. GREGORY: All right, I...

SEN. SCHUMER: That's what's going to happen, and that's legitimate. Mitch McConnell said his goal is not to elect President Obama, and then he says we shouldn't talk about elections? Give me a break.

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