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Interview with Senator Ron Wyden

Interview with Senator Ron Wyden

By Rachel Maddow Show - October 26, 2009

RACHEL MADDOW: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who's been a consistent proponent of making the public option available to everyone.

Senator, thanks very much for your time tonight.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thanks for having me again.

MADDOW: Do you think that I was right with my props, that that's sort of the-descending cascade of conservative options that we had on health reform?

WYDEN: Rachel, those were great signs. And the fact is that the public option will be a great tool, if people can get it. It seems to me that Harry Reid deserves a lot of credit tonight. He's made it clear there ought to be options.

But I continue to be concerned that the way this proposal is written, more than 90 percent of Americans, seven years after the bill becomes law, won't be able to hold insurance companies accountable. They won't be able to get the public option at the exchange, the marketplace, nor will they get additional private choices. You can't get an accountable insurance industry with just a small fraction of the population. You've got to have the whole customer base of the industry on the line.

MADDOW: When we look at what is proposed today by Senator Reid, and we look at the process between now and the Senate ultimately voting on something, potential amendments and the process this is going to go through, do you think that what Senator Reid is proposing could be amended to make it more effective in your eyes?

WYDEN: I think Senator Reid has taken a strong step in the right direction. I do think when you ask the American people about this, you do a poll, for example, you never ask them whether they support the idea of 10 percent of Americans getting the public option. You always ask whether all Americans should have it.

I think the country supports that approach. That's what I'm going to fight for on the floor. The fact is that Americans all across the country use as a talking point that everybody should get this public option. Now, we've got to get it in the bill.

MADDOW: Let me ask you on the issue of talking points specifically. Today, Senator Reid's office did put out a list of talking points on health reform for Democratic senators. And the last one caught my eye because I knew I was going to be talking to you. And it says, quote, "Under our plan, if you like what you have, you can keep it, but if you don't, there will be affordable choices for you that can't be taken away."

Is that really accurate if such a small proportion of the American public is going to have access to the public option? If the public option is the affordable way around what the limited options are right now, is that really true?

WYDEN: Right now, reality is not in line with the rhetoric. Now, we have a lot of opportunities to turn this around. As I say, Senator Reid has been a strong consumer advocate. He's advocating, for example, for McCarran-Ferguson to take away the antitrust break.

But, yes, we've got to make sure that it's possible for Americans who hate their insurance company, who feel their insurance company is abusing them, to have choices like members of Congress. Members of Congress, if you get ripped off in the fall of 2009, you have plenty of choices. But under this bill, seven years after it's adopted, 90 percent of Americans still won't have choice.

MADDOW: It seems like the potential for passing something that is robust and ambitious in health reform increases with a-it-the chances of something important passes increases as you get closer to a 50-vote margin for what you need for passing something. In other words, if the Republicans will be able to filibuster this bill, set a 60-vote threshold for what it takes to pass something, our options as a country are much more limited in terms of what we can get out of health reform. The only way Republicans can filibuster is if a Democrat sides with them.

Do you think that a Democrat will side with Republicans to filibuster this bill, given a 60-vote threshold for passage?

WYDEN: I think if progressives stay at this, continue at the grassroots level to make the case that all Americans should have choice, all Americans ought to be able to hold insurance companies accountable, I think we will have 60 votes in the United States Senate for a strong bill.

But, obviously, this is the key time, Rachel. You asked, for example, about making sure that all Americans had choices, not just talking points. If folks at the grassroots level, the folks who are carrying those signs about the public option now, say, "Look, it's not good enough that only 10 percent of the population can hold insurance companies accountable, it's not good enough at a crucial time in American history to have choice available only to a handful of people who are poor and sick and unemployed," that's almost like a health care ghetto.

Let's hold insurance companies accountable the right way by making them put their whole customer base on the line.

MADDOW: Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon-thanks for your time tonight, Senator, for your clarity.

WYDEN: Thank you.

MADDOW: It's always good to talk to you.

WYDEN: Thank you.

Rachel Maddow Show

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