Interviews with Sen. McCain & Nancy-Ann DeParle

Interviews with Sen. McCain & Nancy-Ann DeParle

By Meet the Press - February 28, 2010

But first, Senator John McCain, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. McCAIN: Thanks for having me back, David.

MR. GREGORY: The healthcare summit on TV, much anticipated, it happened, many hours worth. What's changed?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think the American people are much better informed, and I think it was a good thing because I think there was an in-depth discussion with a lot of--about a lot of issues, and I'm glad that it happened. And it gave--I think a lot of Americans watched. I'm not sure not all seven hours, but I think that it was a good forum. I think that the American people learned something. And I hope that it could be the basis for us to have some serious negotiations. But we still have the fundamental problem: Do we go on the partisan plan that was ran through the Senate and the House or do we start over from the beginning? And we obviously--the--apparently the president may be intent, along with the speaker and the majority leader, to go the 51-vote route, which I'm sure we'll get into in our conversation.

MR. GREGORY: And, and that's called budget reconciliation where they could pass it with a simple majority. How would you react if, indeed, that's what will happen?

SEN. McCAIN: Throughout history, recent history anyway, the majority has always been frustrated by the 40-vote or the 60-vote threshold in the United States Senate. And when Republicans are in the majority, they're frustrated by the Democrats and vice versa. I did object strongly when, during the Bush administration, when we couldn't get any judges confirmed that there was the advocacy of the "nuclear option." I objected to that because I believed, as Robert Byrd does, that, that we should not be addressing these issues through 51 votes.

MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, you have voted for bills through reconciliation nine times since 1989.

SEN. McCAIN: Yes. Yes, I have voted for them, but I objected strenuously to us changing the rules so the Senate--so that 51 votes would prevail. And let me also say that Robert Byrd also in the '70s exempted Social Security. Social Security cannot be considered in reconciliation. We should do the same thing with Medicare. Lindsay Graham and I will be introducing legislation. Entitlements should not be part of a reconciliation process, i.e., 51 votes. It's too important.


SEN. McCAIN: One-sixth of our gross national product.

MR. GREGORY: You were critical of how this bill came to be.


MR. GREGORY: Some of the deals that were made. You talked about that during your--the speech during this summit. And you had this notable exchange that we played a portion of during the open to the program. Let me show it to you.

SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.


PRES. OBAMA: Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election's over.

SEN. McCAIN: I, I, I--I'm reminded of that every day.

PRES. OBAMA: The--oh--well, I...

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: What was your reaction to that moment?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, look, the president said that the, the campaign is over. What I was saying to the president is that you--the mistake that has been made is assuming that with 60 votes in the Senate and overwhelming majority in the House, you can move legislation through which has to be bipartisan in nature. It has to be. Every major reform has had bipartisan support. And so what they ended up with is, in order to buy votes, they did these unsavory deals. They are unsavory. To say that 800,000 people in Florida will be carved out from any reduction in a Medicare Advantage program--330,000 of my citizens in Arizona are Medicare Advantage enrollees. To, to say that you're going to put $100 million in for a hospital in Connecticut? Look, these are unsavory deals. They were done behind closed doors, and it has been--look, I'd have town hall meetings all over the place in my state of Arizona. People object to the process as much as they do to the product.

MR. GREGORY: But, you know, Senator, the president...

SEN. McCAIN: And policy cannot be made through an unsavory vote-buying process.

MR. GREGORY: But the president has said that there were negotiations with Republicans. For months ground was lost through a negotiation on the Finance Committee with Republicans that didn't come to pass. And you say this is not a bipartisan bill, and yet Ron Brownstein, who will be on the program, the columnist makes clear in a column on Friday, this has all the similarities of the Dole proposal in 1993 to Romney's proposal...

SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: ...that was passed for healthcare reform in Massachusetts. How is this a partisan bill?

SEN. McCAIN: I have been part of bipartisan negotiations for many, many years, and I have a record of bipartisan results. This was not bipartisan. The way you have bipartisan negotiations, you sit down across the table, as we did with Ted Kennedy, as I've done with many other members, and you say, "OK, here's what I want, here's what you want. We'll adhere to your principles, but we'll make concessions." This bill was written by Democrats, for Democrats, and then they tried--and I understand power--what they tried to do was peel off a couple of Republicans, as he did with the stimulus bill, and call it bipartisan. It's not bipartisan. I know bipartisanship, and with all due respect to any of our other observer, let's start over, then. It's not too late.

MR. GREGORY: Is there one thing...

SEN. McCAIN: It's not too late. Why don't we sit down together and say, "OK, let's start with medical malpractice reform"? We agree, I think, fundamentally on that. Why don't we address going across state lines? Why don't we go across many of the positive proposals that we Republicans have had, too, and maybe we can find common ground?

MR. GREGORY: Final point on health care.


MR. GREGORY: The politics of this is something that will be much discussed in this election year.


MR. GREGORY: Whether success or failure, hurts or helps, Democrats and Republicans for the midterm race. Well, we've been here before, back in 1994 when President Clinton tried this. And you've been here before talking about this very issue. Back in 1994, Tim Russert asked you about the political implications. I want to play that for you.

(Videotape, July 10, 1994)

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Politically, is it better for the Republicans in the congressional elections to have healthcare reform bill or not to have that bill?

SEN. McCAIN: If the Republicans can convince the American people they are doing it to prevent something like the catastrophic health insurance bill of the late '80s, then yes. But if we are viewed, as the Democrats will attempt to portray us, as just obstructing people from getting the health which they need, then we do so at great risk.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: So same question now.

SEN. McCAIN: I was certainly better-looking in those days. Let...

MR. GREGORY: Same question now: Better for Republicans to have a bill or have no bill?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't know, but I know what's happened with American public opinion, and that is also--seems to be missing in the, the calculations of the president and the Democrats. Overwhelmingly, the American people, depending on which poll you look at, but overwhelmingly, American people are saying stop and start over. We realize you can't do nothing. That, that's just a straw man. We know that Medicare's going broke in seven years, but we need to start over. That's what the American people want us to do. And, again, I get back--they don't like these cynical deals. They are cynical about us. They don't trust us. When you have these deals, these unsavory deals. Look to the pharmaceutical companies. David, how can we say to the pharmaceutical companies, "We'll let you have breaks such as not competing for Medicare pay--enrollees, such as banning the import--reimportation of drugs from Canada in return for which you'll run $100 million or such touting the administration's healthcare reform plan." That's not right. Americans see through it.

MR. GREGORY: More on the politics of 2010.

SEN. McCAIN: All right.

MR. GREGORY: You are in a, a primary battle for re-election against former Republican Congress J.D. Hayworth of Arizona. And on the issue of health care, this is what he says on his Web site, on the issues, "Nowhere is the Obama administration's socialist agenda more evident than in their attempts to grab control over 17 percent of our nation's economy." Socialist agenda, do you think that goes too far?

SEN. McCAIN: Look, you'll have to have Mr. Hayworth on to explain the things he says.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

SEN. McCAIN: I'm, I'm not ready to do that.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think that goes too far?

SEN. McCAIN: Oh, well...

MR. GREGORY: That this is a socialist agenda from the president?

SEN. McCAIN: Look, look, there is no doubt in my mind America's a right-of-center nation and this administration is governing from the left. That's why the president's approval rating's continued to, to decline. And I know you want to get off health care, and I will. But I want to say again--and Eric Cantor who's coming on later will affirm this--we want to sit down and have negotiations, and we have a positive agenda, and we would love to see that agenda...

MR. GREGORY: But--OK, but...


MR. GREGORY: question is do you think that kind of--because you've heard that description before, not just from J.D. Hayworth but others. Does it go too far to say the president's agenda is a socialist agenda?

SEN. McCAIN: I, I think I gave my description. I think they're governing from the left on a broad variety of issues, but I'll let others speak for themselves. I, I have enough time taking care of my own misstatements.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about, you--you've been criticized by some who say because you're in a primary battle that you've changed a little bit, that you've taken more conservative positions. And they go through some particular issues. Let me bring up a couple. One has to do with the...

SEN. McCAIN: Good.

MR. GREGORY: ...issue of "don't ask, don't tell," the prohibition against gays to serve in the military. Back in 2006...

SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: ...on MSNBC, this is what you said about your view. "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to." Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen testified earlier this month, this is what he said:

(Videotape, February 2, 2010)

ADM. MIKE MULLEN: It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And the head of CENTCOM, General David Petraeus, who was on MEET THE PRESS just this past Sunday, said this.

(Videotape, last Sunday)

MR. GREGORY: Do you think soldiers on the ground in the field care one way or the other if their comrade in arms are gay or lesbian?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: I'm not sure that they do.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Why doesn't that meet your standard of 2006 for you to say, "OK, it's time to change views"?

SEN. McCAIN: Because, as I said back then, that we need to have a careful examination, and Admiral Mullen was, as quote, "speaking personally." Just this week, commandant of the Marine Corps said that he did not want "don't ask, don't tell" repealed. There are many in the military who do not want to. We are going to go through, hopefully, a yearlong study that will hopefully also have the feelings of the men and women who are serving. But, David, what--also the chief of staff of the Air Force and the chief of staff of the Army pointed out we're in two wars. We have the highest trained, most professional, best military in history. We have the highest retention, highest recruitment in history. And they're all saying, "Wait a minute. Before we change this, let's make sure we go through a careful examination, ranging from what you heard Admiral Mullen say, his "personal opinion," to what the commandant of the Marine Corps said, he doesn't want it changed. So it's clear that we need to do be very careful as to how we move forward on whether we change this policy or not.

MR. GREGORY: But if the result of that study is that we should move beyond it...

SEN. McCAIN: I believe that it's working.

MR. GREGORY: would, you would side with that?

SEN. McCAIN: If the result of that study is, is one that I can trust and believe in and is supported by our military leaders, obviously, I would have that--give that the most serious consideration.

MR. GREGORY: One question about the bailout, the TARP.

SEN. McCAIN: Oh, yeah.

MR. GREGORY: You voted for it, but you've said that you were misled by former Treasury Secretary Paulson. How so?

SEN. McCAIN: We were all misled. We were all misled. I mean, he said that they were going after the toxic assets. The toxic asset--his word--was the housing market. He testified to that. I mean, we were all misled. So what did he do then? They started pumping money into the financial institutions. Now the financial institutions are fine. Wall Street's doing great. Main Street is in deep trouble. In my home state of Arizona, 48 percent of the homes are under water. In other words, they're worth less than the mortgage payments people are making. The...

MR. GREGORY: But he says without TARP, you'd have 25 percent unemployment. You would have had that.

SEN. McCAIN: He can--he said that, that they would be going after the toxic assets, which were the housing market. And that's what his testimony was, that's what he pledged to do, and--to the American people and to the Congress. And they turned around--I mean, it's a matter of record, it's been reported in all the media. They turned around and switched from trying to address the housing market to bailing out the financial institutions on Wall Street. Who ever thought that we would, when we passed that, we would own General Motors and Chrysler, GMAC? I mean, it's, it's, it's beyond what anyone had anticipated.

MR. GREGORY: Final moment on foreign policy...

SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...and I'll conflate Iraq and Afghanistan in one question. Here's the cover of Newsweek magazine this week. "Victory At Last: The Emergence of a Democratic Iraq." And as you follow the offensive that's taking place in southern Afghanistan to make strides toward shoring up the government in Afghanistan, do you think success along the lines of Iraq, if you believe it's a success...

SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: possible in Afghanistan?

SEN. McCAIN: Oh, of course. In fact, the Afghans do not want the Taliban back. When the surge started in Iraq, things were in total chaos. It--I think we have significant advantages in Afghanistan. But, look, Iraq is not over. I have--I appreciate that cover, but it's two steps forward and one step back. These elections coming up are very important. In Afghanistan, it's two steps forward and one step back. It's a long, hard process and...

MR. GREGORY: Can it be achieved in that 18-month time frame that the administration has put forward in Afghanistan.

SEN. McCAIN: Well, the thing that worries me the most is the president's statement about leaving in the middle of 2011. I would appreciate it if the president told these, all the way down to Afghan tribal leaders who have questioned me about it, to say we're going to do what's necessary to succeed, period. I would love to see that. That's of great concern. They have to stay in the neighborhood. And if we leave, they have to adjust. But I am--I have great confidence in our leadership and the men and the women who are serving. I have never been more proud.

MR. GREGORY: We will leave it there. Senator McCain, thank you, as always.

SEN. McCAIN: Thank you for having me on, David.

MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it.

Up next, the president's blueprint for healthcare reform. What will we see in a final bill and how does the plan get there? We'll speak with his healthcare czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle. Plus, our roundtable weighs in on the politics of reform and the 2010 landscape, only here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. GREGORY: The view from the White House with healthcare czar Nancy-Ann DeParle on the president's plan for reform, after this brief commercial break.


MR. GREGORY: We're back, joined now by White House healthcare czar Nancy-Ann DeParle.

Welcome to MEET THE PRESS.


MR. GREGORY: This week during the healthcare summit The New York Times described it as a "hail Mary pass, a last ditch effort for the president to keep his top legislative priority from slipping out of his grasp." As you sit here today, do you have the votes to get this passed in Congress?

MS. DePARLE: Well, David, what the president wanted to do is bring everybody together again, as he has before during this process, to really have an open and honest discussion about what's at stake here for the American people. What with people loving their coverage, with premiums sky rocketing, you know, how do we deal with these problems? And I think we achieved that this week. And...

MR. GREGORY: Do you have the votes, though, in Congress to pass it?

MS. DePARLE: What he wants to do, David, is to make sure that he's fighting for American families and businesses by doing something about this problem, to reduce their costs, to make it more accessible, to give them the kind of options and choices and protections that members of Congress have. And I believe...

MR. GREGORY: OK. But, but, but my question is, do you have the votes?

MS. DePARLE: I believe that we will have the votes to pass this in Congress.


MS. DePARLE: I believe that the president will keeping fighting and that the American people want to have this kind of health reform.

MR. GREGORY: But you don't have the votes yet?

MS. DePARLE: Well, look, the president will have more to say about that later this week, and he's working with the Congress on how best to address that.

MR. GREGORY: Has he made a decision, especially given the results of this summit, that you've got to move forward with reconciliation, just go for a simple majority and, you know, losing the opportunity to try to bring some Republicans along?

MS. DePARLE: Well, look, he's going to have more to say later this week about how he thinks is the best way to move forward. But I think what it's important to remember here is that we have some fundamental problems with our insurance markets. We have insurance companies sending out premium increases of 39 percent out in California. These are problems that need to be fixed, and the president hears every day from Americans who are hurting because of that.

MR. GREGORY: Right. OK. But fixing those problems, you have to get through procedure to get there, and I've been told by several people the decision has been made. It's reconciliation, go for the simple majority, or else the reforms you're talking about simple won't be possible.

MS. DePARLE: Well, I don't know about that. But I do know this. The healthcare reform has already passed both the House and the Senate with not only a majority in the Senate but a super majority, and we're not talking about changing any rules here. All the president is talking about is, do we need to address this problem and, and does it make sense to have a simple up or down vote on whether or not we want to fix these problems?

MR. GREGORY: A lot of talk at the summit about where public opinion is. And, and here's one poll from CNN Opinion Research about how Congress should proceed, a similar bill, a new bill, or stop working on the bill. Nearly three-quarters of the public saying either start over or stop working. I wonder if you respond to Senator McCain who says the "unsavory deals," in his words, that were made by this administration with pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies, really hurt the president's effort overall?

MS. DePARLE: Well, first of all, I'm not sure what he's talking about with deals with insurance companies. If you've watched your network or any others, you've seen a lot of the ads they're running to try to stop reform. And I think we know why. I think we know that right now insurance companies are making the rules and that's part of what the president's...


MS. DePARLE: ...trying to change. So...

MR. GREGORY: But they did agree to more regulation and to allow people with previous, you know, prior conditions, because they'd get access to a wider of market of people who would be insured.

MS. DePARLE: I don't know that they agreed to anything.

MR. GREGORY: There was a deal with pharmaceutical companies.

MS. DePARLE: I think...

MR. GREGORY: There was a deal with the senator from Nebraska...

MS. DePARLE: Well...

MR. GREGORY: ...and deals for Louisiana and Florida's both with regard to Medicaid.

MS. DePARLE: And let's, let's, let's talk about that. The, the Medicaid provisions in the president's proposal that he put out last week are not the same ones. And, in fact, all states are treated the same with respect to Medicaid. But the more important question, David, is are we going to move forward here or just start over? What is that really code for?


MS. DePARLE: Is that, is that just code for let's not do anything? And I don't think that's what the American people want. That's not the people that I'm hearing from every day.

MR. GREGORY: But where's the evidence--the, the president has said that Americans don't want to wait. But you see the poll that I just showed, and I'm asking where, where's the evidence that Americans don't want to wait, that they really want to move forward? The only protests you've seen publicly are on the right in opposition to the bill. Is it a problem of apathy among those who support it or is it not really there?

MS. DePARLE: No. I think it's a problem partly of who has the power in this whole equation, and I think that's part of the president's fighting for is that, right now, the people that he hears from every day--I get notes from him about people that he's hearing from when he's there out talking to them and the letters he gets--who can't get insurance coverage because their child has a pre-existing condition. They have asthma, they can't change jobs, their premiums are skyrocketing. So I leave the polls to others. What the problem he's asked me to work on is to try to get the best, most effective way we can to help Americans who are dealing with these problems.


MS. DePARLE: The small business people who...

MR. GREGORY: But you can't...

MS. DePARLE: ...can't afford to keep providing coverage.

MR. GREGORY: But you can't separate the lack of public support for an effort as you move forward on, on the policy. Can this be passed through Congress without support from the American people?

MS. DePARLE: I think there is support. I think when you talk to the American people about whether it's fair for them to get knocked off their coverage when they get sick, I think they agree that, no, we need some common sense rules...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MS. DePARLE: help regulate that market. I think they agree with that.

MR. GREGORY: One of the big selling points on this is that this would reduce cost over time and that it would be paid for, that it would actually lower the deficit. But David Brooks, given--before I get to that, but the issue of a tax on those gold plated plans is a key way that you pay for this and balance the costs down the line. Well, that has been changed in the president's plan to take effect later. This is what David Brooks writes in his column on Friday. "The Democrats (and the Republicans)" at the summit, "conveniently neglected to mention the fact that they had just gutted the long-term revenue source for their entire package, the excise tax on high-cost insurance plans. That tax was diluted and postponed until 2018. There is no way that members of a Congress eight years from now are going to accede to a $1 trillion tax increase to pay for a measure that the 2010 Congress wasn't brave enough to pay for itself."

MS. DePARLE: And by the way, David, that, that tax, that fee on high-cost insurance plans was designed to bring down pressure in the long term, and it does just that. And that's why the economists across the spectrum who have looked at it say that's something that they want in this bill and they're glad that it's remained in there. The, the president's fought for it.

MR. GREGORY: But it's pushed back.

MS. DePARLE: It is, by the way, one of the Republican ideas.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But it's pushed back to 2018.

MS. DePARLE: It is, but it was also improved to make sure that it really does focus...

MR. GREGORY: But, but the question that David Brooks is asking, you really think Congress down the road is going to pay for a tax increase that this Congress wasn't brave enough to pass now?

MS. DePARLE: Yes, I do, because this president has--is paying for reform, unlike similar measures in the past, first of all. And, secondly, it, it's something that over 10 years is going to reduce the deficit. They're not going to walk away for that.

MR. GREGORY: Final point, will incremental reform, will a smaller package still be considered reform by this president?

MS. DePARLE: Well, this president's fighting to get the most effective package possible to help the American people to lower their costs, to get everyone covered. And, unfortunately, these are big problems. It's a fundamental problem that he's been left with here, and we have to deal with it. We can't just walk away. I think everyone agreed at the meeting on Thursday that we can't just do nothing. Well, what does that mean? That means we have to address these, these problems, and the baby steps that they talked about, some of which are worthy ideas, many of which we've spent hours talking to them about over the last year and we've incorporated in the bill, they just don't solve the problem. I think that's the issue. So whether we can solve those problems in a piecemeal fashion, I think, is a real challenge and the real issue here.

MR. GREGORY: We will leave it there. Thank you very much.

MS. DePARLE: Thank you.


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