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Rep. Anthony Weiner on "Hardball"

Rep. Anthony Weiner on "Hardball"

By Hardball - October 21, 2009

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let's start now with the fight over the public option. U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner's a New York Democrat who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Thank you, sir.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D) NEW YORK: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: The all powerful Energy and Commerce Committee! Let me ask you about this. It seems like you guys, this progressive wing of the Democratic Party, are going for it. You believe you've got the votes, the 218 for what's called now the "robust public option" in the House. How close are you to getting a majority in the House? We'll start there.

WEINER: I think we're there. I mean, I basically think we're there, looking-and this has been driven by the idea that overwhelming, the country is saying -- 60 percent or so support it. The fact that we've been talking about 218 says it's got broad support in the Democratic coalition, and there's at least 55 votes in the Senate.

So the only question is, Why wouldn't it be in? It's clearly where the country is and it's where our caucus is. And frankly, this notion that it's some kind of far-out lefty idea of having a sliver of competition for these plans-and it's just a sliver because, frankly, you won't be able to get it. I won't be able to get it. It's only going to be for people who have no insurance coverage. That amount of-that amount of competition is hardly a radical notion.

MATTHEWS: Well, there seems to be resistance. Let's take a look now at the six senators we've picked out based on whether-their public comments-Kent Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh.

Now, let's give you some of the quotes out of these people. One is-let's start with Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas. She said this month, "I am opposed to a fully government-funded and gun-run option." Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said, "I'm not for a government-run national public option, but I am for choice and more competition." So these people, a lot of them, are speaking out and saying they disagree with you.

WEINER: Yes, but...

MATTHEWS: So you need them.

WEINER: Look, Mary Landrieu is a classic example. She said that a lot of people she thinks supports public option because they thought it's free health care. People don't have that misconception. Look, the fact of the matter is that a lot of members of Congress running into the face of the health insurance industry and changing the status quo were buffeted over the months of August and September. But now you know what? This has turned into a debate on substance. The American people get it. They want this level of combination.

You know, I did an interesting thing. I have this Web site, Countdowntohealthcare.com. We put on a pin map all the zip codes where people sent in a letter or an e-mail saying they wanted the public option, all throughout the country. This is not a coastal thing that's going on here.

MATTHEWS: It's not?

WEINER: No. You (INAUDIBLE) people understand the idea that they want a little competition in the marketplace...

MATTHEWS: OK...

WEINER: ... and that's the only way to hold down costs.

MATTHEWS: The people that seem to be holding out, though, are people like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut-he's bicoastal. He said right away he's with the insurance industry. How are you going to get his vote?

WEINER: Because we're not...

MATTHEWS: He just says...

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: I would like to have a debate and we're going to have it on the floor, whether we get rid of insurance companies. I think we should. But that's not what this argument is about. This is about whether we're going to have a tiny sliver of competition. And something else...

MATTHEWS: But they don't want competition.

WEINER: But I want to say something. If we are not successful, we as Democrats, talking in crass political terms now, if we pass a watered-down bill that's not going to contain costs, we are going to lose the House and Senate because our fundamental objective won't be met. So I think...

MATTHEWS: OK. OK.

WEINER: ... that after a while, these senators are going to...

MATTHEWS: OK, let's talk turkey. You have to take the position of being strong for a robust plan. I know it's your position, it's your philosophy.

WEINER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I think there's a lot of people, not just on the East and West Coast, who agree with you. But the question is, Can you get 60 senators? Now, here-I want to ask you this. If it comes down to a compromise, where you have to have a trigger or you have to have an opt-in, opt-out by state, would you accept that?

WEINER: I would accept and would be open to the idea of after the program's up and running a couple of years, if a state wants to opt out, if they want to leave 25,000, 30,000, 50,000 of their citizens without that choice-I don't believe it's going to happen, so I would accept that kind of an opt-out thing.

MATTHEWS: But not an opt-in?

WEINER: But the idea-a trigger-we already have a trigger in the law now in that the bill takes effect, realistically, for another seven years, eight years out, 2013 plus a five-year phase-in. There's already a trigger.

The fact is, we're going to be judged on whether there is going to be cost coming down on competition. If we don't have a public option, I don't care what kind of fancy bells and whistles we put in this thing, we're not going to achieve that goal. People are then going to look back and say, You know what? This effort was a failure.

MATTHEWS: OK, here's what I don't understand. We have a new poll out from yesterday-came out the other day-actually, it came out today-

45 to 48 -- "The Washington Post" asked, "Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance?" Now, that did very well. But then there's this one-that was 57 percent. Then we have this other one on-"The Washington Post" asked, "Given what you know about them, would you say you support or oppose the proposed changes to the health care system being developed by Congress and the Obama administration" -- 45 yes, 48 no. After all the noise of this thing, it's not winning.

WEINER: That's right because of all the noise and it's getting picked apart in town hall meetings and everything else. But we're trending in the right direction. Look, I have to say this. I think the president from time to time steps up and gives a great speech on why we need to deal with this...

MATTHEWS: Trending in the right direction? You're 45 to 48 -- you're down.

WEINER: Well, the public option has been going up steadily 5 or 6 points in every single poll because that's been the focus of the conversation. The more people focus and understand these issues, the more they're inclined to support what we're doing.

MATTHEWS: OK.

WEINER: Look, the fact of the matter is, if you ask people, Do you like Medicare, that gets overwhelming...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It's free!

WEINER: Exactly, 96 percent...

MATTHEWS: Of course people like it! It's free!

WEINER: ... 96 -- and it also has a 3 percent-it's not free, obviously. We pay premiums and they put taxes into it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WEINER: But the point is, if you describe what we're doing here, the public option, as being like Medicare...

MATTHEWS: OK. OK...

WEINER: ... which it really is...

MATTHEWS: ... suppose you polled people and said, Do you want a government-run health care system as an option-government-run is not in these-you're smiling.

WEINER: Can I tell you something?

MATTHEWS: The polling question never says "government-run." It says "created by the government," "government-sponsored."

WEINER: How about this?

MATTHEWS: These are pretty soft questions.

WEINER: If I said a government option, such as-like that was created with Medicare 44 years ago-off the charts because people understand how Medicare works. This-making this complicated is why we're losing the issue. I've been saying for months, Just say Medicare is for everyone who's 65.

MATTHEWS: OK...

WEINER: Why? Why not 55 or 45 or 35?

MATTHEWS: OK.

WEINER: People understand...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... ask you about these polls. You've pointed out

anecdotally that you've seen some zip code information that tells you where

but you have ever place like Nebraska, North Dakota-you've got two senators out there. You've got Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both questionable on this thing. You got people from Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, questionable on this.

WEINER: Well...

MATTHEWS: You got-these are people-I mean, you've from the big East, where people are more liberal.

WEINER: This is not...

MATTHEWS: These parts of the country are not liberal. They voted for...

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: Here's what I would say to those senators...

MATTHEWS: They vote for McCain!

WEINER: Here's what I would say to the senators. Let's have an up-or-down vote on it. That's what I would say to those senators. Let the majority rule in this case.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... unanimous vote to win.

WEINER: No, no, no, no. Here's what I want them to do. Just give us a yes vote on letting us have the vote on the floor. How about that? That's what this is about. You know, we've lost sight of the forest for the trees here.

MATTHEWS: OK, you're making an argument here that they're not going to make. They say they need 60 votes to break a filibuster.

WEINER: Even get it-and I think that we have to decide as a party, Is this going to be a majority rule situation here? Are we going to go with the-the overwhelming majority of the people who...

MATTHEWS: Unfortunately, you've lost the argument. The Senate is not going to go for 60 votes.

WEINER: I think...

MATTHEWS: They don't have them.

WEINER: I think...

MATTHEWS: And look (INAUDIBLE) the practicality here is when you got guys like Joe Lieberman sticking his head out and saying, I'm not for this bill...

WEINER: Here's where the-here's-they're all deficit hawks, I think. They're all deficit hawks.

MATTHEWS: Right.

WEINER: CBO tells us, common sense tells us, competition and choice drives down costs.

MATTHEWS: OK.

WEINER: Eventually, that argument is going to get through. And I would say-look, when I-I'm going to go back to my office and go to Countdowntohealthcare.com and I'm going to look at how many come from their states, and I bet we got hundreds and hundreds coming from all of their states.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you what. It's 45 to 48 nationwide. You got to figure in Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, it's about 30 points for this thing.

WEINER: Wait a minute. That...

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: ... on the public option-no...

MATTHEWS: In the latest polling, only 36 percent of the public-just a little more than a third-strongly support a public option.

WEINER: Well, the public option number over (INAUDIBLE) you can go with whatever poll you want, but the public option is "The Washington Post" two days ago, 60 percent, 58 percent. That's not bad. That's good. That's where...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... final question...

WEINER: And by the way, as a percentage of Democrats, 80.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you this. What percentage, do you think, of Democrats in this country are liberals and what percent are moderates?

WEINER: I have no idea. I think...

MATTHEWS: Do you think most are liberals.

WEINER: I have to say...

MATTHEWS: Do you think most are liberals?

WEINER: No, here's what I think. I think when it comes to health care, the moderate position is choice and competition. I don't believe the public option is the liberal position. The liberal position is what I have, single payer for all Americans. This is the compromise position.

MATTHEWS: So let's see on the bottom line, if you were Nancy Pelosi, if you were the Speaker, if you were Harry Reid, would you risk all to get the best possible program? Would you take a big risk and bring to the floor a bill that somebody like Joe Lieberman could vote against at the end, or at the last minute, Olympia Snowe could say, No, you've gone too far in conference, the compromise is too-I've got to pull out...

WEINER: If you...

MATTHEWS: Are you willing to risk that?

WEINER: If you do two things. One, yes, I would say if you put a strong, vibrant public option and then the president puts his finger on the scale and says, This is what I want, I'm prepared to campaign for it and make it a reality, it will become law and we'll be successful as a result.

MATTHEWS: And you're willing to draw on an inside straight here.

You're going to try to get every Democrat to vote for this in the Senate...

WEINER: I think-look...

MATTHEWS: ... because that's what it'll take.

WEINER: I think that we need to make the argument to my Democratic friends that this is an all-or-nothing strategy for us as Democrats. We run the country right now...

MATTHEWS: OK...

WEINER: ... House, Senate and the presidency.

MATTHEWS: OK...

WEINER: And if we can't do this (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: I've been talking around the Hill, talking to staffers and some members, and I've gotten to the point of disbelief. A lot of people like you believe that in the end, no good Democrat from wherever they are in the country is willing to be the man or woman who brings down the president's number one political ambition for this year, health care. And in the end, you folks believe that there'll be such tremendous pressure on all the Democrats, Nebraska, North Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, they'll still have to vote with the party. Do you believe that?

WEINER: Well, let me...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that?

WEINER: Let me say yes but phrase it a different way. There's a divide here. Some people think a watered-down health care plan could be a success for us. Some, like myself, believe if we don't get this right...

MATTHEWS: OK...

WEINER: ... we're not going to get another chance for 20 years.

MATTHEWS: You're a good spokesman. Thank you, sir. Thanks for coming on HARDBALL, Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.

 

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