Senator Begich on "Maddow"

Senator Begich on "Maddow"

By Rachel Maddow Show - September 10, 2009

MADDOW: Joining us now is Mark Begich of Alaska. He is one of the Democratic senators who met with the president today. He‘s the first Democrat that Alaskans have sent to Congress since 1981. Sen. Begich, it‘s great to have you back on the show. Thanks very much for taking the time.

SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-AK): Thank you very much, Rachel. Now, you‘re not going to beat me up tonight, are you?

MADDOW: Well, it depends on what you say, sir, of course. And I assume it would be mutual.

BEGICH: It‘s always a pleasure to come on your show. I mean, last time, we had a little back-and-forth on a Mr. Bill and how to write a bill. Oh, I hope you got the book I sent.

MADDOW: I did get the book. It‘s awesome. Thank you.

BEGICH: It‘s a great book. We had the author sign it, too, to boot. So I thought it would be a great future for you there to read that book there.

MADDOW: Now, I‘m worried that you didn‘t get my thank you note and it‘s stuck in some anthrax-free zone in Ohio somewhere. I‘ll redouble my efforts.

BEGICH: You know, the amazing part - let‘s talk about this for a second - the mail system in the Capitol is outrageous ...


BEGICH: ... because you never get anything because they sanitize it to death. There‘s nothing left except maybe the postage stamp that maybe someone put on it, and that‘s it. So - well, I appreciate again being on here. It‘s a pleasure.

MADDOW: Absolutely. And with that important ground covered, I have to just ask you how the meeting went today with the president. I don‘t know how much of it was - you‘re able to communicate to us. But I‘d love to hear how it went.

BEGICH: Well, there are some obviously I can talk to you about. First, I have to say last night, the president‘s presentation, his speech, was incredible. I think he put to rest a lot of concerns that I know the public has called our office about and set the pace of what we need to do in the next couple months. I think they‘re as clear as you said last night, 80 percent, you know, of the issues we agreed upon. It‘s just the last 20 percent.

And I heard your opening and I want to say that I think it‘s a little bit of both on both ends of within the Democratic Party that will get to a solution here with regard to health care.

And I think today‘s meeting was an opportunity to be blunt with the president but also talk about the concerns we have on how to sustain it fiscally, whatever healthcare plan we have. I was very pleased and I know members who were there today were very pleased about the point that the president made about deficit neutral, but not only for today but into the future.

That last part we really hadn‘t heard. So, that was kind of new information last night, and we were able to discuss it a little bit more today.

He had his OMB director there to kind of lay out some of the issues and get our questions on what we were concerned about, which was, you know, the financial costs, making sure that whatever bill we come up with that we can financially support it, not only today, but for generations to come if we truly want health care.

But I thought it was a very cordial, positive meeting. I think your point was well taken that it‘s time that all the Democrats sit down and resolve their differences and move forward. I think the president sees that as an opportunity to get this on the road and get this show on the road and get it done.

MADDOW: I looked at the statement that your office released yesterday about how congruent your goals are with the president‘s stated goals now. And it seems like you are very much in line with one another, things like covering preexisting conditions has been a real priority for you.

BEGICH: Yes, absolutely.

MADDOW: You can keep your coverage if you want to. Increasing the number of people with insurance, as you mentioned, not adding to the deficit. If all those things are preserved, those things you‘ve campaigned on, that you‘ve defined as your real priorities - if all that is preserved and there is a public option - public insurance option included as part of this bill, would you be able to vote yes?

BEGICH: Well, let me - can I define it a little bit further? There are two other pieces. One is, and the president talked about it today and of course last night, and that is the important impact on small business. He has, I think, a plan that‘s going to save small business folks future costs in regard to insurance and make sure that they have access, which is important from Alaska‘s perspective and I know across this country.

I guess I don‘t want to put the word "public option." What I‘d rather say is that there‘s going to be some mechanism, I guess, at the end of the day to ensure that insurance companies are held accountable, that they are not going to be able to jack up rates and have changes in their formulas in the future that cost American taxpayers and rate payers.

What I don‘t want to have happen is that the bill lives or dies

by that issue, that we have to get healthcare reform, we have to get

insurance reform. And if it means that that‘s part of the equation, we‘ll

deal with that at that time. But it shouldn‘t be the item that makes it

live or die. And we have to -

MADDOW: It‘s not the basis on which you‘ll make your own decision about how to vote, in other words.

BEGICH: Exactly. It‘s a combination of the things you just mentioned as well as - you know, I have to say last night, he helped at least from an Alaskan perspective the issues he laid out on the seniors.

He really hammered down that seniors are not going to lose benefits. They‘re going to gain from this, that - he did a lot of things that I was looking forward to. But now, it‘s about fiscal discipline on it and making sure that it has long-term stability and that it can be paid for and do it with the savings and the efficiencies that he talked about.

MADDOW: Sen. Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, thanks very much for joining us tonight. A lot of people curious about your exact position on this. It‘s great to have you on the record. Great to have you here.

BEGICH: Thank you, Rachel. Always a pleasure.


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