Interview with Rep. John Larson

Interview with Rep. John Larson

By Hardball - March 15, 2010

MATTHEWS: Boy, were they young. Well, there you have it, Roosevelt, Nixon and Clinton all making the case for national health, and here we are on the verge perhaps of doing it. Will this effort this time succeed, Congressman?

REP. JOHN LARSON (D-CT), DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIR: Absolutely, Chris. And I think you started off-I mean, the history of-if you‘re in this business, if you‘re serving as a member of Congress, if you don‘t get a chill listening to this and knowing at this moment in time, we have the opportunity on behalf of the American people to accomplish what Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon and Clinton wanted to do and on behalf of the American people.

Every week I go home, contrary to what you hear-there‘s an awful lot of concern and fear that exists out there, to be sure. But remember what Roosevelt also said about fear and what he said immediately after that, It‘s the warm courage of national unity, knowing that we have this commonweal opportunity here before us to bring the American people together and do so in a way that uplifts the people by providing them with basic coverage and service, by making sure that they can‘t be denied claims.


LARSON: This is a great moment to be in Congress.

MATTHEWS: You know, I wonder one thing, watching this, if we haven‘t gotten caught up in the trees and forgot the forest of history that we‘re facing here, a real history that‘s about to be made if this bill passes. And I guess my question has to do with that. How did it happen? How did we get caught up in a year, more than a year, of arguing over procedure?

LARSON: Well, was it von Bismarck that said two things shouldn‘t be observed, sausage being made and a bill becoming law? When you have a bill that‘s put together by committees the way that it has, the extraordinary work that‘s been done-Chris, we‘ve devoted more time in our caucus alone than we have in the previous years‘ caucuses combined just in the area of health care. And so this is an important issue to people, et cetera.

And I think your analogy is somewhat right. We‘ve been doing a lot of forest in the trees stuff here. And instead of getting back to what the American people care about-and what they want to see now is something you‘ve been advocating, an up-or-down vote on this issue. Enough with the process. Enough with everything that‘s going-they want a vote up or down on this issue.

MATTHEWS: Will there be a vote on the Senate bill, or will there be this vote on the rule, the Slaughter solution, whereby you don‘t actually vote on the Senate bill as members, come the end of the week, but you vote on a rule which deems that to have passed the House...


LARSON: Self-enacting (ph) rules have been used since 1948. And whether that‘s the route we take or not, there‘s at least three, possibly four options that we can take. But again, I don‘t think the public cares much about the options we take. They want to see us act. And by whatever course it takes, we will have this bill on the floor this week and we will vote and enact this legislation on behalf of the American people.

MATTHEWS: Well, I don‘t know what to make of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, but she‘s a member of Congress from Minnesota. I always thought Minnesota was a liberal state. Apparently, it has changed, it seems, certain parts of it. She says-she‘s telling her people-we‘ll have a clip later in the show, in the "Sideshow," where she‘s actually advocating a sort of a tax revolt. If the bill passes the House by this method and the rules-using a rule, rather than a vote, on legislation per se, she says people shouldn‘t pay the tax that‘s involved with this bill. In other words, she‘s urging a tax revolt and thinks-I don‘t know if she‘s going to be there like an H&R Block guy standing next to you when you go before the IRS. But she says that people can violate the tax law if it‘s passed by this procedure. Your reaction?

LARSON: Well, God bless Michele. I wish her well in this. I think the American people, though, are-the kind of revolt that the American people are looking forward to is one where they can throw off the yoke that insurance companies have had over them, where they can get away from the nonsense of preexisting conditions, where they can‘t have their insurance policies rescinded on them.

The president was eloquent today out in Ohio. I think it‘s getting back to those basics and elevating this discussion to real people and what happens in their lives, Chris. That‘s what people say back in Augie and Ray‘s in East Hartford when I go there.

MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go. Here‘s the president in Ohio today. Let‘s listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want us to look and see what is the best thing for America and then do what‘s right. As long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership, and I know these members of Congress are going to provide that leadership.


OBAMA: I don‘t know about the politics, but I know what‘s the right thing to do! And so I‘m calling on Congress to pass these reforms, and I‘m going to sign them into law. I want some courage!


MATTHEWS: You know, Congressman, I‘ve never seen the Republican Party so narrow in its appeal. It‘s basically come out and said disinvest in America, watch your pocketbook, don‘t do anything, don‘t have any government. It‘s forgotten eight years of sort of spendthrift behavior by President Bush. It is like the guy in the-in-in-what‘s that movie, "Casablanca," where the guys says, I can‘t believe gambling‘s been going on here. It‘s like they‘ve discovered this sort of narrow Republicanism.

What do you make of that in Connecticut? What do you make of the fact the Republican Party now isn‘t a party of grand conservatism anymore, it‘s a party of this narrow little nasty "Don‘t do anything" party?

LARSON: Well, you know, I think it‘s sad for the country. You know, coming from the Northeast, as you know, Chris, having worked for Tip O‘Neill, you know, you know the relationship with Silvio Conte. You know the history here. You know, the "Grand Old Party" has become the party of no and obstructionism.


LARSON: And I think the public sees through that and-but I think it‘s vitally important that Democrats not lose sight of the fact that we‘ve got to connect with people that are really hurting out there, that are feeling the loss of $17 trillion in wealth from 2007 to 2009, that are worried, are concerned about their families, their futures and their jobs. And we‘ve got to do everything within our power, putting this behind us, getting health care passed, demonstrating that we‘re on their side I think elevates us. And the president in his speech-I‘m glad to see that he‘s got it back. He‘s into his Robert Cray (ph) mode.


LARSON: He‘s a strong, strong persuader.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the key problem I‘ve got with the way this bill‘s been sold. Back in the ‘30s...


MATTHEWS: ... when we had the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt

came along and made a very simple argument to the American people. He

said, Look, some people are going to be able to survive past their earning

years. They‘re going to live lives-years and years, women especially,

well past when they can make a living. So we ought to have insurance for

them. It‘s called Social Security. And back then, people didn‘t live past

much past 65, so it was a good investment. Lots more worker bees than retired bees.

Now, in the ‘60s, Johnson went along and said, basically, Let‘s do that for health care for older people. Fine. So we understood the basic transfer. Worker bees help out people after they‘ve retired, OK? Why hasn‘t the president been equally clear in this one, where people who have a little more income are going to help that 30 million people get some kind of subsidies so they can have health care, as well? Does that sound too socialistic?

Why hasn‘t he made that clear moral argument, We‘ve got to help people, get them out of the emergency room, give them some self-respect, primary care, take care of themselves, be self-reliant to an extent, and be responsible, but we can‘t do that as long as they‘re showing up for three or four hours, waiting in the emergency room? Why doesn‘t he make that case instead of getting into the weeds?

LARSON: I think he is making that case. But you‘re right, Chris. To the extent that we said to people all along-and I think it was both strategic and the right call (ph) to say, If you like what you have, you can keep it. If you like your doctor, you can still see him. But in that premise, we didn‘t embrace the commonweal arguments that both Roosevelt and Johnson did.

But in his speech today out in Ohio, you saw where the president was, and that‘s exactly the kind of appeal that he‘s going to have to the American people and I also-also think, before our caucus, as we vote on this very historic and momentous occasion this week.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. U.S. Congressman Larson, John Larson from Connecticut, who remembers the Rockefeller Republicans, the moderate Republicans...

LARSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: ... that used to work alongside of you for positive government, that are now missing from the fold. Thank you very much for joining us. Congressman Larson...

LARSON: Thank you, Chris.


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