Interview with Senator Susan Collins

Interview with Senator Susan Collins

By Hardball - October 14, 2009

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We're joined right now by Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Congratulations, by the way, on your re-election up there in Maine this past time.


MATTHEWS: It was a difficult time for most Republicans. Let me ask you, if you had to do a GPS right now, if you had to navigate this president with his chief of staff who is now meeting with some Democratic leaders like Harry Reid and Max Baucus and Chris Dodd, and you had to GPS that senator in that room and the president ultimately defined his way to signing a health care bill that would have your name on it, what would he have to do? What would you do?

COLLINS: Well, first let me say that I think health care reform is important. It has to be a priority. And our system is broken. The Finance Committee bill is the best effort yet, due in large measure to the efforts of my colleague, Olympia Snowe, but it's not there yet. It falls short.

My biggest concern right now is that the bill doesn't do enough to rein in costs. It is cost that is the biggest barrier for the uninsured, that is causing our small businesses and middle-income families to struggle. And I'm worried that the bill that is before us now would actually increase the cost of insurance for many middle-income families.

MATTHEWS: Why is that? Because it puts a tax on what are called the "Cadillac plans," the high-end plans?

COLLINS: There's a number of reasons. First of all, the Finance Committee bill limits the choices of consumers to just four plans. In the individual market of Maine, 87 percent of the individual plans don't meet those standards. So in order for the plans to meet those standards, costs would have to increase.

Also, if you do insurance reforms-which I support, no one should be denied coverage because they get sick. But if you do those reforms, you have to do them in a way that you're spreading the risk over a bigger pool. Otherwise the costs go up.

And there are fees, not just from the Cadillac plans, but other fees that are clearly going to be passed on to consumers. So those concerns really bother me at this point.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the analysis of the cost of this bill that was done by the Congressional Budget Office was accurate?

COLLINS: I think it's probably close to accurate, but the problem is that half of the cost of this bill is paid for by cuts in the Medicare program. And that's another concern that I have. The Medicare program is already financially shaky, and what we're talking about with the Finance bill is taking almost $500 billion out of that program to pay for this new insurance coverage.

The problem with that is those revenues are needed to shore up the Medicare program to make it financially solvent.

MATTHEWS: When we come back, I want to ask you-thank you, Senator Collins. When we come back, I'm going to ask you about the pressure that may be on you from either side and, well, when do you think this is going to get done or not to your satisfaction. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We're back with Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

I wanted to ask a couple political questions. Has Rahm Emanuel or anyone from high level at the White House contacted you as to your concerns and possible needs for changing in this bill?

COLLINS: Yes. Although not within the last couple of weeks. But I've had very good discussions with the administration. They know that my focus is on reforming the health care delivery system in order to hold down the costs. I've had good discussions with them, and I expect I'll be having several more in the weeks to come.

MATTHEWS: I saw in the president's schedule yesterday, I got a look at it, that he met privately without any press around with Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, a Democrat. Would you like to have that kind of sit-down with the president and go over your-I know it's a little bit egotistical, but you're probably the key vote right now.

COLLINS: Well, I had that kind of sit-down back in September. I met for about an hour with Rahm Emanuel and about 20, 25 minutes of that the president joined us as well. So I'm not seeking more attention, but I am seeking some change in the bill. You asked what my predictions were, and I think we can do this, but it's going to take some give and take on both sides, but I think there are a lot of members on both sides of the aisle that really want to see a bill passed.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it's possible for the president-it sounds like you do, for the president to cut a deal in conference when it comes down between the two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, that meets enough of the needs of his party and enough of the needs of the more moderate Democrats and you and your colleague from Maine, that he can possibly strike a deal, is that something that's doable? Can he square that circle?

COLLINS: I don't know yet. It's hard to say because the speaker has said over and over again that she has to have a public plan in the final bill. That's a non-starter among many of us on both sides of the aisle in the Senate. So I think that that's going to be difficult and I don't want to see a secret backroom deal struck in conference. I want to see a bill that is fully debated on both the House and Senate floors, and that's reconciled in conference.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the much-respected senator.


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