Interview with Senator Judd Gregg

Interview with Senator Judd Gregg

By Hardball - February 11, 2010

MATTHEWS: We will have much more on the condition of former President Bill Clinton who is at a hospital in New York tonight after getting two stents placed in one of his coronary arteries. But there is a glimmer of hope for a bipartisan planned to rescue health care reform itself. Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire sent a letter to President Obama welcoming the idea of a bipartisan health care summit. He says, he is ready to sit down and try to be helpful. Could Senator Gregg find a compromise health care plan that wins the backing of other New England Republicans? I spoke with Senator Gregg late today.


MATTHEWS: Senator Gregg, I guess the big question is political before we get to substance. Is it in the interest of the Republican Party that President Obama failed with his effort to reform health care?

SENATOR JUDD GREGG (R-NEW HAMPSHIRE): Well, absolutely not. No, it is in the interest of the Republican Party to put in place a plan that will bring down the cost of health care and make it readily more available and make our quality better in the this country, so that we can afford it. I mean, we are on a path here to fiscal insolvency as a nation and a large part of the problem that we have relative to our finances as a country is driven by the cost of health care, especially in the Medicare accounts. So, you can‘t address those unless you address them in a bipartisan way, in my opinion and as a very practical matter, we don‘t solve this, we are all going to be in the soup and we‘re going to end up passing onto our kids a country where their standard of living is less than ours.

MATTHEWS: Well, the president won the election in 2008, he came into office last year. He controls 59 seats in the u.s. senate, about the same proportion of the House of Representatives. Should the ultimate health care bill reflect that pro-portion? In other words, should this bill and would you accept a bill that was about 60/40 with a democratic slant?

GREGG: Well, I don‘t look at it that way. The way I look at it is what we need is a health bill, which is going to bend the-which is going to accomplish what the president wanted. He wanted three things. He wanted to make sure everybody had access to health insurance. He wanted to make sure that the cost of health care went down, not up. And the cost of government health care went down not up and then if you had your own insurance, you got to keep it, you didn‘t lose it. I‘m 100 percent for all three of those initiatives and I believe that the direction we should take.

And unfortunately, both the senate bill and the house bill failed miserably on three of those initiatives. There are still 20 million people uninsured plus, it bent the health care cost curve up and it added $2.5 trillion of new spending to the federal government and a lot of people estimated in the tens of millions, were going to be forced out of their private insurance onto this exchange. So, I think we can do a lot better and I think we can do it in a bipartisan way and I think we can accomplish much of the goal-much of those-a large percentage of the goals that the president seeks, my goal being number one to keep this country from going into bankruptcy over the cost of health care.

MATTHEWS: If the president‘s plan to use a metaphor were a car, would you want a new car or would you try to take some things off of it, put some more features onto it? Is it something that has a core of strength to it or does it has to be taken apart completely and start all over again?

GREGG: Well, that is a tough analogy but the engine of the car was horrible. I would never have used it, because it expanded the government too dramatically. I also didn‘t like the wheels on the car because they basically suggested that we should move down a road of government basically interference and dominance of the health care delivery system and move us out of the private market in my opinion, but there were parts of the car that I might have wanted to take out of the car, maybe the sound system or something. You know, the ideas that you should significantly adjust Medicare and there was significant savings propose in Medicare, 60 democratic senators voted for that. Now, unfortunately they took those savings and used they them to fund a brand new entitlement, which is outrageous.


GREGG: I mean, that was outrageous.


MATTHEWS: Deficit reduction. Let me ask you.


GREGG: The way should have gone to making Medicare more solvent. Should have gone into a Medicare solvency fund. That was a huge number, by the way.

MATTHEWS: The way a lot of people talk about this or their certain reform elements they talked about the president, pre-existing conditions shouldn‘t prevent you from being covered, would you like something like that?

GREGG: Absolutely. That insurance reform ideas, I think there‘s consensus across-the-board on those, also selling insurance across state lines is important. At one point, myself and Tom Harkin had agreement on how you would encourage companies to pay people for living healthier lifestyles and give them an incentive to do that through paying them cash. Unfortunately, that was dropped in the senate bill but it was actually in the health committee bill. So, things like that you can reach agreement on it. And that is what we should do, we should step back, look at this and pick out the things we know we can reach agreement on, and there are bunch of things we can reach agreement on.

MATTHEWS: Remember the old days, Walter Cronkite, he was so respect, he was able to bring Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem by simply asking the right question and getting an answer. If you had an arbiter, someone to come in like mandatory arbitration and you were sitting there as the republican leader, or speaking just for yourself as the Senator of New Hampshire, could somebody broke with this deal in public? Because, that is what it seems like the president is talking about. Some kind of big summit meeting at Blair house in a week or so, where you sit down, he was a republican, some other republicans and he was with some others and actually hashes it out in public? Is that possible?

GREGG: Oh, that is a tough question, Chris. You know, the way Washington works. Once you start floating ideas, they are immediately attacked by all the different interest groups before the ideas can be brought to fruition.


GREGG: So, I guess, it‘s very hard to work an idea into a final resolution because even before-right at the starting line, they shot to death by the different interest groups. I do think-I don‘t know what this meeting is going to be about whether it is going to be about political theater or whether it is going to be about political substance. But if it is going to be about substance, what we should do is basically, start out with a white paper that is blank and then have people put up their concepts on that white paper, so what they think we need to do and a lot of different areas. For example, I would throw up tort reform. I would throw up, you know, abuse of lawsuit reform, I would throw up reform in an allowing employers to pay more to their employees who live healthy lifestyles.


GREGG: I would throw up the Dartmouth plan which says basically you reward providers for quality instead of quantity. I would throw up a whole series of those things and see if we couldn‘t get at least a conceptual agreement around maybe five, six, ten of those ideas and then move from there. The big idea is, you are not going to get conceptual agreement around.


GREGG: You know.


GREGG: Or something like that.

MATTHEWS: I go back to my first question, you are not going to get a republican plan out of a democratic president, right? He is not going to sign on to Judd Gregg‘s health care plan. He is asking you to find the amendments and the changes, substantive, central or peripheral that you would find that would allow you to join the bill. I‘m going to ask you this question. If you were to join and a couple of other senators would join, would you feel constrained to stay with your caucus?

Now, I understand what happened with the president. The president‘s point of view, I understand is, he couldn‘t get three republicans because he couldn‘t get ten. He couldn‘t get ten because of your party‘s-the pressure on your party to stay very conservative and members don‘t like to move over to the liberal side of things. Is it possible, even conceptually, for two or three senators to break from the pack and join the president?

GREGG: I think it is possible for a fair number of conservative senators, like myself, be willing to sign onto a bill that unalterably bends in the odd year the cost of health care and uses Medicare savings to make Medicare solvent. There is extraordinary fertile ground there. We are talking not hundreds of billions but trillions of dollars of potential adjustments in the unfunded liability and Medicare just by doing what the democratic senators voted for in the senate and using that money instead of creating new entitlements to make Medicare solvent. That could be the linchpin, I think of a massive-not massive but significant support for piece of legislation from our side of the aisle, I hope.

MATTHEWS: So, thank you so much for joining us. It is a sign of hope that you are willing to talk about a possible compromise between your position, a Conservative Republican position from New Hampshire and that of this president‘s. Thank you so much, Senator Judd Gregg, of New Hampshire for joining us.

GREGG: Thank you.


MATTHEWS: Well, I think Senator Judd Gregg made some news there, Senator from New Hampshire.


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