Rockerfeller & Corker on "Hardball"

Rockerfeller & Corker on "Hardball"

By Hardball - September 10, 2009

BARNICLE: But we begin with President Obama and where the health care debate goes from here. Senator Jay Rockefeller is a Democrat from West Virginia and a member of the Finance Committee.

Senator, Congressman Joe Wilson from South Carolina-it‘s like a mandatory question being asked by every politician in Washington today. What was your take on it?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: My take was that it was a very small, I thought rather rude, interruption in a very important speech about health care to the American people, and I don‘t even think about it anymore.

BARNICLE: We‘re going to play it, Senator, for those few Americans left out there who haven‘t heard it. Here is President Obama being called a liar by South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson.


BARACK Obama, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms...


OBAMA: The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.


OBAMA: Not true.


BARNICLE: Senator, before we get into the specifics of last night‘s speech and what you thought about it, let me ask you, off of what Congressman Wilson said, off of a summer where the birthers have been running around the country saying President Obama wasn‘t born here, off of the last week, where we had such a furor over a president of the United States speaking to schoolchildren, what‘s going on? What do you think is going on?

ROCKEFELLER: It‘s-incidents build other incidents. Rudeness creates more rudeness. Inappropriate behavior, you know, recreates itself in many forms. I just think for those of us who are worried about policy and getting a health care bill, the focus on that fellow from South Carolina isn‘t productive. So I-you‘re just-Mike, I think you‘re great, and I think you love baseball, so that‘s all I need to know.


ROCKEFELLER: Then I‘m just not going to think about Mr. Wilson.

You‘re not going to get me to talk about him.

BARNICLE: All right. I‘m with you. I‘m with you, the Red Sox and the American League East. But let me ask you about policy. Could you clear up-there are constant back-and-forths on what is in this bill with regard to the idea of illegal immigrants being covered by a health care reform bill. Can you clear that up? Are they-will they be covered?

ROCKEFELLER: I‘ll do my best. It‘s very, very simple. First of all, there is no bill on the Senate side. There is on the House side, and it specifically says illegal immigrants are not covered, will not be covered, cannot be covered under any circumstances. That language, or language very close to it with the same force, will appear in whatever Senate bill emerges. And I can guarantee you that. So it‘s something that people should not worry about for a moment.

BARNICLE: Well, the Republicans seem to be putting out-House Minority Leader John Boehner continues to refer to the fact that, you know, they will not-we can‘t ask them whether they‘re here illegally unless they would be able to be covered. What do you say to that contention?

ROCKEFELLER: That I would really love to hear what Mr. Boehner has to say in terms of health care policies that he thinks would be useful for the American people. I mean, this is the whole question of what-where have the Republicans been on sort of actively engaging in public policy? They‘re actively engaging in nitpicking, where they‘re wrong and where they end up saying untruths to the American people. And unfortunately, because of the way it‘s always picked up and people always dive right into those controversies, a lot of the American people believe it. And that‘s very frustrating for those of us who really care about the policy and have been working on this for a long, long time.

BARNICLE: What is your sense of the situation in your state, West Virginia? You‘ve just come back from August recess. West Virginia‘s a state hard hit by the crippled economy over the past few years, actually, historically. Is there in West Virginia more of a concern about jobs, or more of a concern about the need for health care reform? How does that work in your state?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, you know I hate saying this right at this point, in the middle of the health care debate, but there will never come a time that there‘s anything in West Virginia-there will never be an issue that‘s more important than people having jobs because West Virginia‘s always had to struggle that way. Only 4 percent of our land is flat. It‘s hard to get industries to move in, build highways, and all the rest of it. But health care is tremendously important, but jobs trump everything.

BARNICLE: You know, as you seek a middle ground in the Senate, and as you would seek a middle ground in the conference committee between the Senate version and the House version, do you think you‘re going to get the 60 votes in the Senate? Where do you think that stands? The president had, I believe, 17 Democratic senators down at the White House today. There seems to be a growing feeling among some Republicans that the Democrats, the Democratic Party, the Democratic president are going to just go it their own way and railroad whatever they can right through the Senate and right through the House. What‘s your sense of it?

ROCKEFELLER: Mike, I have this feeling about-I was in the state legislature. I‘ve have been around here about 25 years. And I was governor for eight years. So I-I know how these rhythms work. I think that in legislation, particularly controversial legislation, there‘s a kind of a rhythm. And people take-they really dig their heels in on something, let‘s say public option or something about insurance or how, you know, providers are reimbursed under Medicare. They dig their heels in.

And then the closer you come to the fact that you are actually going to vote on or mark up a bill, people become more fluid. So the word I use for the place where we are now and why I think the president was wise to wait as long as he did to make that good speech is that it‘s a very fluid situation. It could go a lot of different ways, and I think that bodes well for health care‘s being passed as a bill that gets enough votes.

BARNICLE: Senator Jay Rockefeller, thanks very much.

ROCKEFELLER: Thanks, Mike.

BARNICLE: Senator Bob Corker is a Tennessee Republican who sits on the Banking and Aging Committee. Senator, mandatory question of the day. Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina last night, "You lie"-what do you think?

SEN. BOB CORKER ®, TENNESSEE: Look, that was very not good. It was the wrong thing to do. The office of president should be respected. Against protocol. My understanding is he apologized formally afterwards and realized himself that he certainly stepped across a line.

BARNICLE: Senator, let‘s take the word "lie" out of the equation, but you‘ve had some reservations and several comments about the senator‘s (SIC) speech last night and about the health care proposal that the president is advocating. So do you think-is he fudging the facts? Is he tripping around the truth? What is he doing, in your mind?

CORKER: Yes, look, first of all, I think there are things that we need to do to reform health care, and I think the White House knows that I believe that. I‘ve said that in every town hall meeting I‘ve had. And I hope that we can reach a middle ground and do some things that are pragmatic, that really move the ball down the field and don‘t do any harm.

I thought last night‘s speech was a little bit more like a-say, a primary speech in Iowa or something like that that was rhetorical. And for that reason, I today e-mailed over to the White House chief of staff, to Nancy DeParle, that‘s handling the health care issues, a request for some text so that we could actually put some meat on the bones and understand more specifically what the president was saying.

I left there last night really with more questions than I did answers. And so anyway, I‘d like-I think for this debate to be advanced, we really need to understand what was said in its text form, what he means by these types of solutions, and I think that would advance the debate, if they would actually come forth with that.

BARNICLE: So you used the phrase, It sounded more like a primary speech in Iowa. And today the president of the United States had 18 or 19 Democratic senators down the White House to discuss this. Do you get the impression that they‘re just going to go right forward with a Democratic bill? And are they going to really leave you on the sidelines, if that‘s what they have to do?

CORKER: I felt like-look, in fairness, I know that I‘m viewed as somebody who wants to solve this problem. I felt like last night, the train left the station, that in essence, it was about consolidating the base, if you will, behind the president. And I really did feel like that we reached a fork in the road last night with that speech. I don‘t think that is best for the American people. I think that that‘s going to be very problematic for all involved. I hope that that‘s not the case, but that was my sense as I listened to what was said last night.

BARNICLE: So what‘s your biggest reservation or reservations about the proposal that‘s coming out of Max Baucus‘s committee?

CORKER: Well, there are a number of things. Let‘s move policy aside. I really-as it relates to what happens at the end, I personally believe we do need to have things like exchanges. We need to deal with the issue of preexisting conditions. We need to have cross-state line competition. I think all of those things need to be addressed. I think we need to have some tax code changes so that people can in a more affordable way purchase health insurance.

What worries me is how this is being paid for, among other things on the policy side. But for instance, taking $410 billion out of Medicare-and I‘m not saying that that‘s cutting services, but what it is doing is making sure that Medicare is not solvent, that we‘re not dealing with the issue that Medicare‘s going to be insolvent in the year 2017, and we‘re not even dealing with the issue of making sure that next year, we don‘t have a 23 percent cut with physicians and nurses.

Secondly, pushing off the cost to states. I can‘t imagine us considering pushing off the cost of raising Medicaid levels off to states. That to me makes no sense. So there‘s numbers of things.

What‘s happening here in Washington right now is that we are playing with the 10-year budget window game. In order to finance this, the Finance Committee is looking at 10 years‘ worth of revenues but seven years‘ worth of costs. And what that means is we‘re going to have deficits into the future.

So there are numbers of pieces to this that I don‘t think will pass the common sense test for the American people. I don‘t think Republicans and Democrats or independents are going to like the outcome if we go through this reconciliation process, which I fear is the direction that we‘re headed.

BARNICLE: Now, see, as I listen to you and your nice, soft Tennessee accent, I‘m thinking to myself, Now, here‘s a moderate, congenial guy. He‘s making sense here. So let me ask you, how many times have you been invited down the White House to talk to the president in these tones?

CORKER: I went down and met with the president right-maybe a week or week-and-a-half before recess, which I appreciated. And in that meeting, Mike, I said exactly what I just said to you-concerned about taking money from Medicare savings and not using it to extend the Medicare program, concerned about pushing Medicaid off to states, concerned about the budget window.

And the fourth thing I would say is, the fact is that there‘s a lot of tough sledding that needs to take place to really solve this problem. And it‘s going to take leadership at HHS and CMS.

But I‘ve been down there once. I‘ve had conversations with Nancy DeParle. I‘ve talked to Rahm Emanuel over the weekend. I‘ve talked to Max Baucus numerous, numerous times. I‘ve probably been to 50 or 60 meetings.

But my sense is that there‘s a-that we‘re stuck, that we‘re in this mire that instead of reaching a middle ground, I feel like we‘re heading towards the path I just mentioned.

And again, I don‘t even think that‘s going to be good for the Democratic Party, should that occur. My concern certainly is not for the Democratic Party but to make sure that we have a policy that will stand the test of time. And I‘m just afraid that that‘s not where we‘re heading, especially as I listened to the speech last night.

BARNICLE: Senator Bob Corker, thanks very much.

CORKER: Thank you, sir.


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