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Klobuchar, Corker, Woolsey, & Boustany React to Obama

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 10, 2009

JIM LEHRER: And now how the president's speech and last night's reaction -- we test that inside the Capitol with looks to -- as we look to members of Congress today. And to Judy Woodruff for that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for that, we do turn to Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota; Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee; Representative Lynn Woolsey, a Democrat from California, she's also co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House; and Representative Charles Boustany of Louisiana, he gave the Republican response to the president's speech last night.

Thank you all four for being with us.

I'm going start with you, Representative -- I'm sorry, Senator Klobuchar. The president's speech, what did you make of it? What did you make of the substance of it?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, D-Minn.: You know, what I liked about the speech is, he wasn't talking to the four of us that are on your show right now. He was really talking to the people of this country. He was reaching out to America and really giving a blueprint of how he thought we could get this health care plan done and what it meant.

And I think there's been so many myths out there, so much anger, some of which you saw boil up right there in the House chamber, but he was very clear in what he wanted to do, that he wanted to get stability and specifically got a standing ovation by nearly everyone in that chamber about this idea that you shouldn't have to drop your coverage and have no coverage just because your kid gets sick, so we can get rid of the pre-existing condition rules and set some clear rules on insurance companies.

And he also methodically went through how we are going to be able to cover more people. And at the same time what I really liked about it, being from Minnesota, the home of the Mayo Clinic, he laid out his concerns about costs and affordability. That is the number-one thing I heard at the Minnesota State Fair for the past two weeks, that people want to focus on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Corker, did it change your mind?

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: No, it didn't. I've been, you know, really involved in the details of what's been put forth.

I actually had a different view of the speech. And the speech, again, was just an episode. We do have some tough work here to get done, and I agree that there are issues regarding pre-existing conditions, the ability of people to be able to buy affordable health insurance, tax code changes, cross-state competition. There's so much that I think overlap both Democrat and Republican concepts that I think we could move those ahead, and I hope we'll focus on that.

But I thought the speech actually was more like a -- sort of a primary speech in Iowa to sort of bring his base together. I did e-mail over this morning to the chief of staff and to the person handling the health care policy for the White House to ask for the details, because I actually left there last night with more questions than answers. There were a lot of platitudes.

The details of health care are very, very important. And the American public is very tuned into this. And, again, I just thought there were details that were missing. That doesn't mean we can't get there.

I felt also last night, Judy, that in some ways the train was leaving the station. I felt like -- hopefully this is not the case, but the stage was being set for a more partisan piece of legislation than the way we've been working together in the past.

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY, D-Calif.: Well, actually, I saw it as very positive and clear and concise. And I felt that the president gave the Congress -- the House and the Senate -- gave us back our marching orders and told us what he wants to have in the health care reform plan.

I was happy that he maintained the public option. And although it wasn't defined, I felt like he lobbed that ball to the progressives, and he didn't say it out loud, but I heard him saying it in my heart of hearts, "All right, progressives, define what is a robust public option, and let's see if we can get it in there."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to ask you about that in a minute, but I do want to turn to Representative Boustany for now. You did give the Republican response last night, Congressman Boustany. And among other things, you said you oppose a government-run health care.

But we heard the president in the speech say, "I hope my Republican friends, rather than making wild claims about government-run health care, will sit down and have a conversation, a real discussion about this." What did you make of that?

REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY, R-La: Well, you know, Judy, as a doctor on the House Ways and Means Committee, when we had the markup of the bill, there was specific information in that bill.

And I had many, many questions about the government option and how it would work. How would physician networks be built out? What happens if those physician networks are not successfully put in place? The financing structure of this, there were some unanswered questions there.

And so the problem we have is, we have a bill that's been written that we could very well be voting on in the full House of Representatives shortly which is faulty. There are a number of problems with it. And the president's speech was more lofty; it was in general principle terms. He didn't get into enough specifics. He really didn't give us anything new.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and let me come back to you, Senator Klobuchar, on that. I'm getting two completely different pictures from the four of you. Did you hear anything from the president that cut through what your understanding was and what you think your fellow members' of the Senate understanding of what the president wants?

That focus on affordability and costs that we've been hearing time and time really from citizens all over this country, I believe that's something that Republicans, at least in the past, have said they cared about, and I hope they care about it now, because Medicare is going to go in the red by 2017.

We have seniors who are 55 years old that should be concerned about that, and we have seniors who are 65 that want to live until they're 95 and need to have Medicare. And we need to make it more efficient, and I like that focus of the president.

He also is willing to talk about a malpractice reform, something that we've heard a lot about from the Republican Party. And I think in general he signaled that he was willing to compromise and work with people on a plan that worked for America.

He talked about how we shouldn't be fearing the future, that we should be working to shape the future. And that is with all of the citizens that I've heard, the backpack company up in northern Minnesota, a guy paying $24,000 a year for his family of four, he said he wouldn't have even started the company 15 years ago if he knew that that would happen.

The family that shows up at our meetings and says that his wife died, he's got his three kids there, and that he's still paying for the long-term care for his wife...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me...

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: ... I mean, it's just unbelievable stories that people around -- that every elected official has heard and the president was basically saying, "Let's work together and get this done."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Corker, what about those statements the president made that appeared to be a gesture to Republicans, saying he was willing to consider a look at malpractice reform, limiting malpractice claims. He talked about Senator McCain's idea of the high-risk pools. And he said that he's willing to consider alternatives to the public option.

SEN. BOB CORKER: Well, look, I know the White House knows -- we've had numerous conversations that all of those issues we've been talking about are things that I'd like to solve. I'm obviously not supportive of a government option.

I know we're spending a lot of time on the speech, and I think it's timely that we are, because it occurred last night. But I actually sort of want to move on, and I want to look at the details of what he talked about.

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