Interview with Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Interview with Rep. Lloyd Doggett

By The Situation Room - August 6, 2009

BLITZER: Here's a question. Are these protests being organized? What's going on? Let's talking about it with the Democratic congressman, Lloyd Doggett. He's joining us now from Austin.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: Wolf, good to be with you from deep in the heart of Texas.

BLITZER: What happened earlier in the week when you got swamped over there by protesters who don't like the Democrats' version of health care reform?

DOGGETT: Well, Saturday, we had a well-organized surprise visit from a local Republican Party. They were videoing it. I think we had a little performance art there. There's nothing wrong with them coming out with TV cameras, organized or unorganized, and presenting their views.

What I objected to, after an hour of my talking with them, trying to listen to them among their taunts, and responding, they silenced our neighbors who were there with their "Just Say No's" blocking the entrance to the stores and some juvenile tactics of trying to block me from departing.

Their initial film just shows the end after I've devoted an hour to them. Fortunately, this afternoon I had another town hall meeting with some people that feel just as strongly against the plan, but it was a respectful dialogue and I think a constructive one.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the Republican Party chairman Michael Steele said here in THE SITUATION ROOM about these protests and some of the accusations that these folks who are going out there to rail against Democratic proposals are extremists. Listen to this.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: They're being demonized and demagogued as being extremists. You know, when we get to a point in this country where dissent is extremism, we've turned I think a very dark page in our history, and I don't want us to go there.


BLITZER: Are you going there, Congressman? Tell us what you think about what Michael Steele is saying.

DOGGETT: Well, dissent is the tradition in America, and I've been on the side of dissent a good bit of my career, particularly in the last many years of the Republican Congress. I supported, would defend strongly their right to dissent.

As far as whether they're extremists, I guess they're may be the best judge of that. This crowd that I had on Saturday was claiming that the Tenth Amendment prevents us from having this health plan and in dialoguing with them it became clear they think the Tenth Amendment requires the repeal of Social Security and Medicare.

I know plenty of people and myself included who consider that to be an extreme viewpoint, a wrong viewpoint, and who believe we need more competition and individual choice here in health insurance. And that's what this bill is about.

I think some of these folks can see it coming. They've blocked reform for 60 years, they feel we're just about to get there under President Obama's leadership, and they're willing to do anything, say anything, yell out their neighbors if that's what it takes to stop reform. And we just can't let that happen.

BLITZER: There have been other episodes similar to what you had, maybe not as dramatic around the country where protesters, critics come out and face Democratic lawmakers. But the Democratic senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri who's also faced some criticism, she put this out earlier in the week on Twitter.

She said, "I disagree that the people showing concern over some health care proposals are manufactured." She's not willing to go so far as to say these protesters are all the manufactured. Some of them are really heart felt.

DOGGETT: Nor would I. And some of them have legitimate concerns. There's no party that has a monopoly on truth here. We need to continue to try to perfect this program, this insurance initiative. But the need is so great, the need for a public plan to encourage competition, to see that Americans have more choice, and some of this has been manufactured.

I had that happen to me largely on Saturday, exploiting fears, much misinformation out there. I think that's been happening to some of my colleagues around the country. If we're to have civil dialogue, that's good, that's constructive, but when people get shouted down, when the insurance companies and the Republican Party send out instructions about how to disrupt these meetings, that's not constructive.

BLITZER: Can the president push health care reform or health insurance reform, as the White House is now calling it -- can they push it through without any Republican support?

DOGGETT: Well, unfortunately, on our committee that considered the bill initially in the House, we were not able to get any Republican support. I think the Republican Party, as it has shrunk and become much more of a hard-right ideological party, doesn't give us very many partners in the House.

I hope we can get some in the Senate. I want a bipartisan bill, but let me say, if the choice is between a bipartisan bill and an effective bill, I want the effective bill. And I think our goal should be the objective of getting a strong, meaningful health insurance reform, and I hope it's one that is done in a way that Republicans can join. I'm not overly optimistic about that, however.

BLITZER: So, you think it's -- if he gets it done, it will be strictly along the lines of the Democrats showing up.

DOGGETT: I think that's true in the House. I hope that the long time that they've taken in the Senate will bring along some Republicans. I'm sure they have some ideas to contribute, but we cannot sacrifice the concept of a public plan.

You know, under the analysis that has been done by the Budget Office, if we get the public plan just as we approved it in the House Ways and Means Committee 96 percent of the people under age 65 will be in private insurance with market reforms. Only 4 percent in a public Medicare-type plan.

Isn't that compromise enough that we only have 4 percent in a public plan? I don't think we have to take it to zero. I think it's reasonable to have that approach.

BLITZER: Congressman Doggett, thanks for joining us.

DOGGETT: Thank you, Wolf.


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