Interview with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Interview with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

By The Situation Room - August 13, 2012

BLITZER: And as we've been reporting, Mitt Romney is in Florida today. He's on the offensive against President Obama when it comes to entitlement reform and Medicare. Let's talk about that and more with Democratic Congresswoman and chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wassermann Schultz. She's joining us from Florida as well.

You know Paul Ryan. You've known him for many years. You've been on my show with him over the years. In fact I went back and looked. Two years ago you were on with him in THE SITUATION ROOM. I have a clip of that conversation I had because he explains where he stands on Medicare. It's a very specific issue, the ages where he would accept changes. Listen to what he told me.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, 2010: What I am trying to propose is something responsible. Prevent cuts from hitting current seniors, people near retirement, and reform these programs for those of us are under 54 because we know they're going bankrupt and put them on the path of solvency and sustainability.


BLITZER: So the question is, just to be precise, he does call for dramatic changes for people 54 and under. But anyone who is 55 or older or any senior living in Florida right now they have absolutely nothing to worry about because if his plan were to be approved because it would not affect them at all. You accept that, right?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: No, Paul Ryan's views two years ago on Medicare and how we can shore it up and preserve it for future generations were extreme and wrong then and they're extreme and wrong now and made even worse by the fact that now they're in charge of the House of Representatives, and actually if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan became president and vice president of the United States, they would be able to end the Medicare guarantee, shred the health care safety net that Medicare has provided for more than 50 years, and turn Medicare into a voucher program, leaving seniors really out in the cold because as health care costs grow larger than the voucher provides, seniors wouldn't have enough money to cover their health care costs. And we know that the Romney/Ryan plan would increase Medicare premiums by $6,300 each year for seniors, Wolf, so --

BLITZER: But we're talking about -- but he says there would be --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: -- take another approach like Barack Obama --

BLITZER: He says he's not calling for any changes for anyone who is 55 or older including anyone who is on Medicare right now. Those changes, let's say I accept --


BLITZER: Let's say we accept all those -- the description you have of all of those changes, that affects people 10 years from now --


BLITZER: -- let's say 65 or 67 when they're eligible for Medicare. But it doesn't affect anyone who is receiving Medicare right now or those who have 10 years to go, 55 and older.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It certainly does and I'll tell you how --


WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: First of all --

BLITZER: Explain that. Explain how if you're --


BLITZER: -- 56, 57 or --


BLITZER: -- 83 years old how his recommendations for those under 55 impact them?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm happy to. First of all, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan presume that the people who are younger than 65 years old who have spent decades in their --


BLITZER: He says 55.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK, so 55 and younger. We'll start with that age. Those people have spent decades paying into Medicare and because of the arbitrary cutoff of 55 years old that Romney and Ryan have established that means that we would no longer for those people have Medicare be a guarantee. Instead, we would shred that safety net. It would no longer be a guarantee. It would be a voucher. They'd pay more than -- $6,000 more in premiums to pay for their Medicare coverage and because health care costs often rise higher than that voucher would at a faster rate the voucher wouldn't provide for all the health care costs --

BLITZER: But that --


BLITZER: That would affect only for people who are under 55 right now, current recipients of Medicare.


BLITZER: He says --


BLITZER: He says that his proposal and he spelled it out in the House Budget Committee. He's the chairman of that committee.


BLITZER: He says there would be absolutely no change --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And I'm on that committee --

BLITZER: -- for -- so you're familiar with his recommendations. That no one over 55 --


BLITZER: -- would be impacted by his recommended changes.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK here's how though. As I said, because -- first of all, we do care that we have a safety net in place in health care for people are 65 now and for people as they turn 65. We made a decision in the 1960's --

BLITZER: But they would continue to have that safety net.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That we were going to -- no, they wouldn't because --

BLITZER: But he says anybody over 55 is still going to receive exactly the same Medicare that they receive right now.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK, but Wolf, they end -- their plan ends Medicare as we know it --

BLITZER: For people under 55 years old.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes and that's not OK. It isn't OK --

BLITZER: Well, that's a legitimate debate. I just wanted to make sure that you and he were on the same page that the changes he's recommending will affect younger people --


BLITZER: -- not necessarily those who are currently on Medicare or those about to get Medicare.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Here's why that is not accurate. Because people who are younger now, by ending the guarantee, by causing Medicare to be a voucher instead of a guarantee what you're going to do is you're going to cause insurance companies to cherry pick the healthiest seniors, and you're going to cause Medicare to be financially even more unsustainable. Because you'll have only the sickest seniors left in Medicare. And that will affect seniors on Medicare right now.

So if we implement -- if God forbid Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are elected president and vice president, they can pass that plan next year, then their plan to shred Medicare safety net and end the guarantee, turn it into a voucher means that we will impact seniors now because the younger seniors, the healthier seniors will go into private insurance, and the less healthy seniors will end up in Medicare, and that will make Medicare more financially unsustainable. Barack Obama and Democrats believe that we can take Medicare and shore it up, leave it as a guarantee, make sure that safety net stays in place.

Just like we did when we added eight years of insolvency through the Affordable Care Act, like we did when we added benefits by closing the prescription drug donut hole and made sure seniors could afford their prescription drugs, like we did in the Affordable Care Act by adding a wellness visit that is without a copay or a deductible so seniors can go and get a checkup, which they couldn't before so they can stay healthy. So we have shown that you can add solvency to Medicare, leave it as a guarantee.

And if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and the extremist Republicans want to just throw out the guarantee that's Medicare, then we're going to have a debate about that. But it is not going to make it better for seniors current and it will rip that safety net out from under future seniors and that's not acceptable.

BLITZER: The debate will clearly be intense, as we all know there are so many other issues on this Medicare to get through. Unfortunately we don't have time right now. But you know what, we'll have you definitely back. This is a key issue --


BLITZER: -- not only in Florida but in a lot of other states where there are a lot of seniors.


BLITZER: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, all those battleground states. It's not going away, the debate over Medicare. Debbie Wassermann Schultz thanks very much for coming in.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thanks Wolf. Thank you. 

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