Senator Sherrod Brown on Health Care

Senator Sherrod Brown on Health Care

By Rachel Maddow Show - November 23, 2009

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Brown, thank you for joining us tonight.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Yes. That was one optimistic set of assumptions there, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Senator, you weren't there in '94, so I thought you needed a little refresher.

BROWN: Well, I was in the House-I was in the House in '94.


BROWN: But let me go back further in history to 1965. And I talked to a gentleman by the name of Byron Cans in Cleveland not too long ago, who is a lawyer-a young lawyer in the Senate those days. He said Medicare was very, very hard to pass. And, you know, the difference between 1994 and today is shows like this one, and the Internet and the activism that so many Americans have shown.

With public option still in the bill because of the "Olbermann Show" and "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW and people on the Internet and people speaking out and a lot of activists engaging with their House members and senators to push this-to push this progressive agenda. So, that's one of the big differences from today from a decade and a half ago.

O'DONNELL: I completely agree. It's made a real difference in the dynamic from the left side of the political dynamics of this thing.

Senator, the Senate bill has a new tax in it that wasn't in the finance committee bill, which is an increase in the Medicare tax. We now have a bundle of taxes in the Senate bill that no one campaigned for, never mentioned in Barack Obama's political campaign, not mentioned in yours.

How do the Democrats defend in 2010 having voted for these-assuming you get to vote for these on the Senate floor and pass them all-you will have passed a package of taxation to pay for this bill that no one campaigned for, but you're going to have to defend in the campaign in 2010, how will you do that?

BROWN: Well, first, this bill, unlike the Bush tax cuts, unlike the Iraq war, unlike the Medicare privatization in fact pays for itself, will actually pay down the deficit several hundred million dollars over the next 10 years. That's number one.

Number two, it's a mix of taxes that are generally pretty fair. I don't agree entirely with the way it's done. I would like a surtax on people making over a quarter or half million dollars a year. I think that would be the best way to do this. The Medicare tax is only for people that are upper income. The tax on employers, the excise tax, if you will, on benefits, I don't agree with. But I think this package overall takes us in the right direction.

So, I think we're-I mean this, when you said 15 work days, it's a lot more than 15 because we're going to be working weekends. We're going to work into the night. We need to-Harry Reid knows this-we need to stay here and do-I'm in Cleveland now, but we need in Washington starting Monday and do whatever it takes to get this bill passed in the Senate in December and to the president's desk prior to the State of the Union in January. That's absolutely our commitment.

O'DONNELL: OK, Senator. I'm going to throw in every day-every day

between December 1st and December 25th. I'm going to give you 24 full work days. I'm going to have you working until midnight on Christmas Eve and it will be impossible to pass this bill in 24 days. There's going to be-as you know-there's going to be hundreds of amendments to this bill. From the Democratic side there's probably going to be over 100 amendments to this bill. It will roll over into January.

How do you handle the calendar in January when you're also going to be intersecting with appropriations bills that have to be passed or the government will be forced into shutdown if they're not passed?

BROWN: Well, we do-as you know, Lawrence, we do a continuing resolution to get us through the appropriations bills. I mean, we obviously want to do as many of those individually, because it runs the government more efficiently, it allows us to plan better for the future. But we're going to do what we have to do.

I have confidence we can. I mean, I've never-go back to when we-when we wrote this bill in the health, education, labor, pension committee. We had 11 days of markup, longer than I've ever seen. We processed on any bill in my time in the House and the Senate, we processed hundreds of amendments. We passed 160 Republican amendments. It had a bipartisan flavor to it, except on, obviously, the really big questions like public option and mandatory issue and all mandatory enrollment and all of that.

But I'm still optimistic. I think-I know it's easy to be pessimistic about this, but we're committed to doing this. And the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Caucus is committed to this. We know the president's success or failure of his-at least the first half of his first term depends on this. It's the most important-next to my vote against the Iraq war, this is the most important thing I've ever done in my professional career.

I think-I'm not speaking for my colleagues but a whole bunch of them would say the same thing. And our commitment-Republicans are going to try to delay everything. That's their role, they think. They're the "party of no."

They-you know-but when I think of it this way, Lawrence, 400 -- more than 400 people in my state, in Cleveland, in Toledo, in Dayton, in Youngstown, 400 people every day lose insurance in this state, I'm committed to fixing this.

O'DONNELL: Senator, just quickly, is there any deal-breaker for you in this bill? I mean, it's a tough time to be a loyal Democrat because you guys have been-guys like you have been on this from the start and you're seeing the holdouts get these concessions at the last minute, big concessions; money concessions to their states.

Don't you, sitting there in Ohio, start to think of a certain point, "Wait a minute, shouldn't I be a holdout? Shouldn't I, you know, waver at the last minute and grab something for Ohio in this deal?"

BROWN: Yes. I mean, we're always doing-I talked to Rahm Emanuel tonight and David Axelrod about, not about this bill, but about some major things in Ohio. We're always doing that.

My focus is on getting this bill passed. I think that I-I mean, of course, we see these kinds of things, but we need to get it passed. And that doesn't mean continuing to move to the right. I mean, that's what has happened in some ways in this bill. The public option is not the way Sheldon Whitehouse and I wrote it, or wanted to write it back in the HELP Committee in July. It's compromised. It's still solid and still strong.

Some of the other things on the prescription drug issues we're going to try to fix on the floor so that the drug companies don't get their way as much as they've kind of done through some of this process. We've got a lot to do to keep this bill and make sure it's strong and make sure it's a progressive bill that we wrote in the HELP Committee four months ago.

But, again, I'm confident we're going to be able to do that. And I think, in the end, these four Democrats-obviously, I don't speak for anybody else, but they don't want to be on the wrong side of history. They don't want to look back and think, "You know, I killed this bill myself on a procedural vote, the most important thing-the most important domestic piece of legislation in five and perhaps four decades. I killed it on a procedural vote."

I don't think my colleagues, any of the four of them, are going to want to-or are going to think that way when it comes time to do cloture at the end of this process later in the month.

O'DONNELL: Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio-thank you for your time tonight.

BROWN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: And I hope your family gets to see you on Christmas Eve.

BROWN: Thanks.


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