Interviews with Sen. Barrasso & Rep. Altmire

Interviews with Sen. Barrasso & Rep. Altmire

By Erin Burnett Outfront - June 28, 2012

BURNETT: Our second story OUTFRONT, an historic day on Capitol Hill. By a vote of 255-67, the House today for the first time held a sitting attorney general in contempt of Congress. This stems from the "Fast and Furious" operation, where the government sold about 2,000 guns to drug runners hoping that would lead to breaking up cartels.

Critics say the attorney general failed to hand over documents related to the operation. All but two Republicans voted in favor of contempt. And about 100 Democrats didn't even vote. They walked out in protest.

But here's the thing. Seventeen Democrats voted in favor of contempt. Congressman Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania was one of them. He is OUTFRONT tonight.

Congressman, good to see you.

REP. JASON ALTMIRE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Hi, Erin. Glad to be here.

BURNETT: All right. So let's get straight to this. Why did you go against your party? The White House called this vote a political stunt. You went ahead and voted in favor of contempt. Why?

ALTMIRE: There were two issues. One is I couldn't get around the fact I'm a member of the House. The House has asked for documents related to the investigation. I understand that Attorney General Holder doesn't want to give them. He has reasons why he doesn't feel he's obligated to provide them. But the fact is he didn't provide them. And when there's a vote on contempt, that's something you have to consider.

We asked for the documents. They were not provided. I hope that the documents will show nothing was inappropriate or wrong regarding the operation or the attorney general's involvement in that. I have no reason to believe that in any way they're going to show anything that we wouldn't want it to show. But he was asked for the documents and he didn't provide them.

The second reason is I was here in the Congress in 2008 when we had a very similar vote during the Bush administration. And the Democratic controlled Congress had two members, high ranking officials in the Bush administration, that we held in contempt under very similar circumstances relating to an issue. And as a result, I had the vote in contempt for that.

So I just couldn't reconcile the issue being different just because the political party in power is different.

BURNETT: Well, all right, so fair point. You made the bipartisan point. But let me ask you about this conspiracy theory. NRA has a theory -- the National Rifle association about "Fast and Furious." And they say the Obama administration allowed these guns to be sold knowing they'd go into Mexico. Knowing they'd be used in violent crimes. That would cause bad headlines and allow the government to go ahead and impose more strict gun regulations here in the United States.

Do you believe that theory?

ALTMIRE: I don't. And that has nothing to do -- I've heard it. That has nothing to do with the reason why I voted the way I did. Again, I cast a similar vote in 2008. It's consistent with the vote I cast today. And as a member of the House, I believe we do have the power of the investigation and oversight over the executive branch. We asked for documents that were not provided.

And because the vote was held on the floor, I voted to hold the attorney general in contempt because he did not comply with our request.

BURNETT: OK. So the National Rifle Association. They said today's vote, they're going to look at it when giving letter grades. I know those letter grades are very important, I know you got an A on the last scorecard. And I know they've given you about $19,350 over the past four years.

I also know you're not running for election. But the NRA's support, letter grade, had to matter to you.

ALTMIRE: Well, as you said, I'm not on the ballot in the fall election. So I don't know how anyone can make the claim that that had anything to do with the vote that I cast today. You have every right to bring that up. It's an appropriate point of discussion but it wasn't part of the reason I voted the way I did.

BURNETT: You might run again one day, right?

ALTMIRE: I have no plans to run again. That had nothing to do with the vote that I cast. I cast again because I want to be consistent with the vote that I cast four years ago when President Bush was in power.

BURNETT: All right. Well, look, I mean I -- we applaud the saying, you know, I'm not going to just go with my party, I want to be bipartisan. So I want to make that clear. But I wanted to ask you sort of a personal question. Because, you know, when I was looking at your vote, I know a lot people would say, how can you be a Democrat and care so much about the NRA?

How could you be a Democrat and want to have a gun? It's the same thing a lot of people say, how could you be gay and be a Republican. You know, the people just don't understand how those things could go together. Does that frustrate you?

ALTMIRE: The way you articulated it, if that is a criticism that's being levied, yes, that would concern me. But I haven't heard that in response to the vote. The district that I represent is overwhelmingly in support of the Second Amendment. I believe there are more NRA members per capita in the 100 mile radius surrounding the district that I represent than anywhere else in the country.

So I'm just representing my district when I -- my district when I cast votes that the NRA would support. But again, in this case, I voted that way for consistency and because I believe that it was the right thing to do based on the vote we cast and the issue that's at hand.

BURNETT: Right, yes, no, no, I understand that. I mean I'm just wondering, you know, it was presumably near your district when the president when he was running last time around, made the comment about guns and bibles.

ALTMIRE: Well, I represent western Pennsylvania. And I believe that that was one of the regions that was part of that articulation.

BURNETT: Yes, but it must have -- I guess what I'm getting at, does it upset you people want to say negative things about people who have guns? To say that if you're a Democrat you can't be for guns. And clearly in your district, you're a Democrat and they're for guns.

ALTMIRE: Yes, again, I was elected as a Democrat three times. I have the support of the NRA two of those times. And then I'm not running for re-election. So that wasn't part of my consideration this time when I cast the vote today.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate your taking the time, sir.

And still OUTFRONT, the decisions made by the Obama administration make the surge in Afghanistan ineffective. And cost lives and dollars. Our guest was there. He tells us why he thinks so.

And the number tonight, cars, money, stick shifts. And Ferris Bueller.


BURNETT: So the clock is ticking right now. Today through Monday, eBay and AutoNation are partnering. They're going to sell 10 to 14 brand new cars every day. And the way they're doing it is they're going to cut the price of the cars by about $500 an hour. So this is really tricky because you can actually bid at any time. So, you know, it keeps falling. And if you wait too long, someone else will swoop in and beat you to the car. Interesting little method to get people interested. Because EBay has become an accepted place to buy cars. There are over 90,000 cars and trucks on eBay actually at this moment.

I remember almost 10 years ago a friend sold a car on eBay. It was such a new concept at the time that getting the money from the buyer and giving the keys was done at New York's busiest train station so that both parties felt that if the other pulled out a knife or something, tried to steal the car, somebody would intervene. I actually think that they would just look the other way and keep walking. But you get the point.

We've come a long way. And that brings me to our number tonight. $3,260,100. That's the cost of a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider. The most expensive car ever sold on eBay. Many of you would probably recognize is from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Of course, that Ferrari is on manual and that driver didn't know how to drive it. So are 8,800 other cars for sale eBay, they got manuals. Maybe you want to check it out.

All right, OUTFRONT, the president says it's time to move over on health care. But our next guest, a powerful member of Congress, says he's going to do everything in his power to stop it. What is he going to do about our biggest concern? How to pay for it. And does this add up?

Jerry Sandusky may be collecting a big fat paycheck right now from Penn State. And getting it for the rest of his life.


BURNETT: All right, welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT. We start the second half with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines.

Finally, a break for firefighters in Colorado. Cooler temperatures and lighter winds helping in the fight against wildfires raging across the state. The U.S. Forest Service officials say it could still be mid-July before the fires are under control. More than 36,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

The mayor of Colorado Springs says 347 homes have been destroyed. And the FBI tells OUTFRONT that its investigation into the cause of the wildfires is now under way.

Well, the United States has decided to look the other way when it comes to China and Singapore buying oil from Iran. Here's why that's ironic. First, China's the biggest buyer of Iranian oil. So if the U.S. looks the other way on China, what are we doing? U.S. sanctions set to take effect today are supposed to cut countries off from the American financial system if they are importing Iranian oil. The United States said that the pass for China is a reward for the country voluntarily dropping its imports by nearly 40 percent. Eighteen other countries thought are also exempt. The sanctions are designed to force Iran to stop its nuclear program.

And as staggering worse case scenario for JPMorgan Chase. Outside or inside sources quoted by "The New York Times" say the trading loss that Jamie Dimon took on the chin isn't the $3 billion initially reported. It could be closer to $9 billion. That sent the stock price down 2.5 percent today.

We called FBR banking analyst Paul Miller. And he actually ran the most important number. He said JPMorgan would have to lose more than $20 billion to have a major impact on the company's bottom line. That's important because $9 billion, almost halfway there. He also said there has been harm to the bank's reputation.

Well, there's a plane for sale as is. Do you remember this day? I do.

Polish airline Lot. That Boeing 767, you remember its landing gear broke. And as it was landing, it had to land in soap and on the runway. I mean, it was an incredible moment. The plane is not allowed to fly again. But it's for sale.

So, you say, who wants a plane that can't fly? We called and got some answers from Cat Doggins (ph), an aviation consultant. He says one engine on that 767 is worth about $7 million. The five computers on board are worth $750,000 each. That's a grand total of about $4 million. And apparently 40 percent of that fuselage is recoverable aluminum, so scrap dealers and maintenance dealers for other airlines worldwide can line up to buy it. That means, of course, part of that doomed plane could end up on your next flight.

It's been 329 days since the United States lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

This isn't going to help. The economy grew at 1.9 percent in the first quarter. That's an annual rate. It was the final estimate. Here's what you need to know. At 2 percent or higher, you can create enough jobs to put a hole in the jobless problem in this country. Below 2 percent, you can't.

And now our third story OUTFRONT: unworkable, unpopular and unaffordable. That's how Republican Senator John Barrasso described the president's health care law. But tonight, he can no longer say it's unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court decision today flies in the face of what Senator Barrasso has been vowing to do since January of last year -- repeal and replace the health care law.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Nothing should come between you and your doctor. Not a government bureaucrat. Not an insurance company bureaucrat. Nothing. Republicans will fight to repeal this job-destroying law and replace it with patient-centered reforms.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: What exactly are those reforms he's talking about? Senator Barrasso is OUTFRONT tonight.

Senator, good to see you. Appreciate it.

I know you've been talking about repeal and replacing this health care law for quite some time. Obviously, you're going to vote in favor of the -- you would, you're in the Senate, but they're going to be repealing it in the House in a couple of weeks. Let me just ask you where you stand on the provisions that Americans love.

You can't discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Young people can stay on their parent's plans until they're 26. Subsidies for lower income households. Small businesses get tax credits.

Would you keep all those things?

BARRASSO: You know, my wife is a breast cancer survivor. She's been through three operations, chemotherapy twice. I know how important it is for people with pre-existing conditions to be able to get coverage and to get care.

And there are a lot of ways we can do it in a way that is actually more cost effective than happens through this health care bill. The same thing with those under the age of 26. You're talking about fewer than 1 percent of all people in this country where -- are covered that way. So there are things we can do to lower the cost of care and help everyone.

Under this health care law, though, you look at the president, so many of his promises that have been broken. He said under the law that insurance premiums would drop $2,500 per family that first year. Instead what we've seen is premiums have gone up $2,400 a family.

This law, it was a bad law yesterday. And in spite of the Supreme Court's decision today, it's still a bad law tonight.

BURNETT: All right. So let me -- just a couple things you said there I want to clarify. First of all, you're saying that yes, you would pay for it, but you would keep things like young people can stay on their parent's insurance, coverage for pre-existing conditions, right? That would be part of a good health care bill in your view?

BARRASSO: Well, I think it is. I said that on CNN two years ago, the day of the White House summit where we were discussing -- I think someone from CNN asked me, what could we pass today that people agree on? And that was one of those things. I think there's some benefits for that.

Fundamentally, we have a health care law that gives people fewer choices and increased costs and fewer control of their own life and own health care. And I think it's still a bad law and should be repealed and replaced.

BURNETT: OK. So let's get to this issue of cost. You've raised something we've been talking about.

Premiums are going to rise. Estimates are 7.5 percent under this. That is still more than any raises Americans are getting. It's four times the rate of inflation. That's really bad.

But, you know, this president tried to fight that. He went out to the doctors and said, I want to cut what you guys are getting. I don't want so many tests. And he fought back by them, by Democrats, by Republicans. Nobody wanted to take the political heat for paying for it.

Would you tell doctors, forget it, guys, stop with all those tests?

BARRASSO: Well, as somebody who's practiced medicine for 25 years, I can tell you that doctors worry about the lawsuit abuse that exists out there, which cause them to order many expensive tests. It's called defensive medicine. It's when a doctor orders a test more to treat the doctor than the patient because they don't want to miss that one in a thousand, or one in 10,000 cases that's going to end up for them to be in the courtroom rather than in the operating room --

BURNETT: Fair point but they also order those tests, those machines --


BARRASSO: -- expensive tests.

BURNETT: OK, that's true but they also old those expensive test machines and put them in their office because they know they can get reimbursed by insurance for a lot of money by putting those tests through. That's why doctors keep going in practices and ordering those machines. That's been proved in study after study to be true.

BARRASSO: You know, it's an interesting concept about just how much money is wasted in health care that's not really being used to help the patient get better. But the physicians I have worked with over the years, it is driven by the concern about getting sued. Defensive medicine is a huge part of the cost of care.

And some physicians do put the machines to order these tests in their own offices for the convenience of the patient but it is driven by the defensive medicine that's been practiced. And the president has essentially ignored this, refused to admit how much this contributes to the cost of care.

The American people need health care reform and the reason they need it is because of the cost of care. That's what this whole thing was supposed to be about from the beginning -- making sure the patients get the care they need from the doctor they choose. Not that the government chooses or some insurance company chooses at lower cost.

And this health care law has failed on all of those accounts. BURNETT: OK. But let's look at the biggest cost -- things that account for costs in America. You've got hospitals. You've got these tests that come from doctors. You've got prescription drugs. Obviously, a big part of that came from the prescription drug plan under George W. Bush.

So are you going to go to those hospitals, to those drug companies, and tell them, we're just not going to do this anymore? I mean, you know, you have to admit, the president did try. It was Democrats and Republicans, both who were afraid to go ahead and fight the costs.

BARRASSO: Well, I think that the president basically misled the American people. He said the negotiations would be covered on C-Span. Things would be all open.

These were all closed door negotiations. It was one party making all of the decisions. They were -- the bipartisan ideas were not accepted. The patient refused to listen to Republican ideas aimed at lowering the cost of care, bringing more competition into this, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, giving individual incentives for people who take efforts to actually lower their cost of care by losing weight, by taking more control and prevention in their own lives.

The president ignored item after item and came out with a one- size fits all, which has really driven up the cost of care faster, report show us, than if the law had never been passed in the first place.

BURNETT: Senator, thank you. Appreciate your time. 

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Erin Burnett Outfront

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