December 7, 2009

During their discussion on the health care bill moving through the Senate, Sen. John Cornyn calls Medicaid a "health care gulag" and plays concern troll for the insurance industry as Dick Durbin points out with his defense of Medicare Advantage.

WALLACE: Let's turn to health care reform. President Obama is making an unusual visit to Capitol Hill today to meet, Senator Durbin, with you and your fellow Democrats. Is that a sign that debate on the Senate floor has stalled and that Democrats need another presidential pep talk?

DURBIN: Not at all. We are down -- thanks to Senator Harry Reid's leadership, we're down to two major issues, abortion and public option. And I think we're coming to closure on those issues. We're likely to come to a vote on the abortion question maybe by tomorrow.

The president is going to come in and urge us to bring this ball across the line, to finish this, as he should. This is an historic opportunity. You have to go back four decades or more to a time when we addressed an issue which has such importance to every family, every business, every individual in America.

And I'm glad the president's coming. It's always good to see him. He's a former colleague of many of us in the Senate, and his counsel and encouragement, I think, will be appropriate.

WALLACE: Senator Cornyn, are Republicans succeeding in dragging out this debate? And what do you think that's accomplishing?

CORNYN: Well, Chris, I regret that the president is going to continue what has been a partisan approach to health care reform.

Obviously, the president and Senate Democrats have made a decision to do it their way without accepting input from Republicans both at the committee level and in the Senate.

And our goal is not just to deal with things only like the public option and the abortion issue, but also to point out that this cuts a half a trillion dollars in Medicare and people cannot on Medicare Advantage, for example, keep what they have as the president promised, that it will actually raise taxes on small businesses during a recession, and it will -- it will limit people's choices to -- in many cases, to a government-run program like Medicaid, which is essentially a health care gulag, because people will not have any choices but to take that poorly performing government-run plan.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, I know you're going to want to answer a little bit of that, but let me ask you, if you will, in the course of your answer to focus on one specific issue.

As you say, one of the big issues is the public option, and there's a compromise that's out there to try to bridge the gap between the Joe Liebermans and the Blanche Lincolns of the world and some of the more liberal Democrats, which would be to give the states the power to set up their own plans -- give them the power and the money to set up their own plans to create affordable health insurance coverage -- no federal program. Is that something you could support?

DURBIN: I'm looking for an alternative which creates competition for the health insurance companies, because they at this point enjoy a virtual monopoly. People don't have much choice. And they are exempt from antitrust laws, so they can fix prices and allocate markets under the law and do it legally.

I have to say to my friend Senator Cornyn; the Senate Republicans have made such a heroic effort to help the private health insurance companies when it comes to Medicare Advantage.

Despite the fact that we are sending them a $170 billion federal subsidy, the Republicans every day come to the floor and plead with us, "Let this subsidy continue for these private health insurance companies," which enjoy some of the biggest profits in American business and award their CEOs with the highest salaries in American business.

And they come each day without embarrassment and say, "We've got to give them more. We have to stand by these private health insurance companies."

WALLACE: Well, all right. I'm going to -- I have to give him a chance to respond, but I just -- to get the answer to my question, you say an alternative that provides more competition. Could there be an alternative that is not a federal public option?

DURBIN: There are many alternatives. I have to tell you, you have cited one. There are several others that are being discussed at this point. Bring competition. Give choice to consumers. And I might say to Senator...

WALLACE: But a public option is not -- a federal public option is not...

DURBIN: It's never been a federal public option. The investment at the outset...

WALLACE: It's never been what?

DURBIN: It's never been a federal government agency.

WALLACE: No, I didn't say it was.

DURBIN: Well, at the outset, there would be an investment to start a not-for-profit insurance company.

And I might say to Senator Cornyn -- I'm not sure if he's one, but most of us in the Senate are in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, a government-administered program. I don't find any Republicans who find government health insurance repugnant bailing out of their own health insurance plan that they enjoy as members of Congress.

WALLACE: Senator Cornyn?

CORNYN: I'm just -- it's breathtaking to me, Chris, the disdain with which this administration and Senate Democrats have for the private sector. If you eliminate the private sector when it comes to health care provision, you're left with only the government, which many fear is the reason why this public option is, as Joe Lieberman said, a Trojan horse for a single- payer system ultimately.

So I would point out -- I think, actually, Senator Durbin has underestimated the amount of tax dollars that will go to insurance companies under the Reid bill. I think it's $450 billion which will go in the form of tax credits that will be directed by the treasury secretary to insurance companies.

But this shouldn't be about demonizing the private sector and, you know, glorifying the government sector. This ought to be about, you know, how do we bring down costs, how do we lower premiums, how do we keep taxes low, and how do we avoid these cuts to Medicare. That's what...

WALLACE: I'm going to let the two of you -- because you're debating this on the Senate floor, and I'm obviously going to let you do it there, because you're not going to settle it here.

Transcript via Nexis Lexis.

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