Full CNN Debate: Sens. Graham and Cassidy vs. Sens. Sanders and Klobuchar on Health Care


Transcript, via CNN:

TAPPER: Live from Washington, I'm Jake Tapper.

BASH: And I'm Dana Bash. And we have breaking news from Congress tonight as the state of Obamacare hangs in the balance.

TAPPER: Support for the Republicans' last best hope for repeal, the Graham-Cassidy bill, now appears to be disintegrating. A key vote, Maine Senator Susan Collins, has just announced she will vote against it. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told me just hours ago here on CNN that he is also a firm no.

BASH: And of course, Arizona Senator John McCain, who cast the deciding vote against the last Republican effort, has pledged to vote against this one, as well. At this hour, it appears the bill will almost certainly fail.

TAPPER: The question now: Can Republicans find a way to keep their promise to repeal Obamacare with the clock ticking towards the deadline on Saturday? And if not, will they work with Democrats to fix what many Americans say remains a broken system?

We've gathered four senators at the heart of the debate. We have the authors of this latest bill, Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, physician for nearly three decades. On the other side, independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, and Democratic Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar.

BASH: And, Senators, you will get 1 minute and 15 seconds to answer questions from us or the audience, 30 seconds for responses and rebuttals, and timing lights will guide you.

TAPPER: We have an audience made up of Americans on all sides of this issue tonight. With the Congress at a crossroads once again, their questions may be more important than ever. Where should we go from here? Let's begin with an opening statement from Senator Lindsey Graham.

GRAHAM: Well, thank you for coming tonight. Where do we go from here determines a little bit about who we want to be as a -- as a nation. I want to provide high-quality health care for every American, including my family and yours, but we've got to find a way to make it so without bankrupting the country.

A little bit about me. When I was 21, my mom died of Hodgkin's disease. Fifteen months later, my dad died. My sister was 13, and moved in with an aunt and uncle worked in a textile plant. And thank God they helped me. We're all one car wreck away from needing somebody's help.

I'm here tonight because Obamacare is failing. We wouldn't be having this show if it was working. In my state, we had a 31 percent premium increase Friday. We had five insurers in 2014. We're down to one. It's not working in South Carolina, and I don't think it's ever going to work anywhere. It's time to look for a replacement. It's not enough to repeal it; you've got to replace it. I think we've got a damn good idea.

TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders?

SANDERS: Well, since President Trump was elected, these gentlemen and the Republican leadership have on five occasions tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, thrown tens and tens of millions of Americans off of the health insurance they currently have, and make it impossible or very difficult for people with pre-existing conditions to get the health care that they can afford.

What these guys want to do is force older workers to see a very significant increase in their premiums, which is why the AARP is vigorously opposed to their legislation. They want to tell 2.5 million women in the United States of America who today choose Planned Parenthood to get their health care they can't do that, because they want to defund Planned Parenthood.

But here is the most important point. We're going to have a debate. It'll be a good debate. We like each other. But -- yeah, we really do.


But here's the point. Every major health organization in this country, whether it is the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer's Society, every single major medical organization in this country thinks that their proposal is a disaster.

So our job now is to defeat this disastrous proposal, get back to the drawing board, see if we can work together for some short-term fixes. Long term, in my view -- I speak only for myself -- this country has got to join the rest of the industrialized world, guarantee health care as a right of all people.

TAPPER: OK, Senator, thank you.


Senator Cassidy?

GRAHAM: Take longer than a minute and 15.

CASSIDY: For 25 years, I worked in the public hospital system of Louisiana trying to bring health care to those who did not have. And I learned in those 25 years that when the patient has the power, the system lines up to serve her. And when the bureaucrat has the power, it first serves the bureaucrat. Now, this is a debate about who has the power. Is it you, the

patient, or is it the federal government? The narrative on the other side is that you don't have the capability to care for yourself, that your governor is corrupt, scheming to take away your protections if you have a pre-existing condition. And they think the federal government taking control of your life is a better way to go.

The logical extension of that, unfortunately, is the Charlie Gard case, the Charlie Gard case in which the single payer of England said the decide -- the life -- the decision of the life of your child is too important for the parents to make, and then the child died. I will tell you, if it's a decision about you versus the federal government, we side with you. Those who oppose us and those who want single payer, they choose otherwise. Thank you.

TAPPER: Senator Klobuchar?


KLOBUCHAR: I'm up here on this stage because 20 years ago my daughter was born, and she was really sick. And she couldn't swallow, and she was in intensive care. And I was kicked out of the hospital in 24 hours. That was a rule back then.

And I went to the legislature as a private citizen and got one of the first bills passed in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay. Our story ends well. My daughter got better and better. We fed her with tubes. My husband, who's here, and I did for about a year-and-a-half. But she graduated from college this year.

And I think every mom and dad should be able to take care of their kids that way and be able to have insurance. I believe politics is about making people's lives better. But this bill, it doesn't do that. It kicks millions of people off insurance. It raises the premiums. It basically passes the buck to the states, but doesn't give them the bucks to cover people. So that's why I think we need to work together on the plans that are already underway to fix the Affordable Care Act and put the politics aside and focus on people first.

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