Days after the Supreme Court wrapped up oral arguments on the constitutionality of the national health care overhaul, Vice President Biden predicted Sunday that the high court will not throw out the Obama administration’s signature agenda item.
“I’m not going to speculate about something I don’t believe will happen,” Biden said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” when asked by host Bob Schieffer what might happen if the entire health care law is thrown out by the court this summer. “I don’t believe it will happen. And so I think we should focus on what is the law doing or people now, and what would happen if in fact the Republicans were able to repeal it?”
The wide-ranging interview, which came as “Face the Nation” kicks off its new hour-long format, marked Biden’s third appearance on the show as vice president and the 55th of his career, according to Schieffer.
Biden weighed in on topics including the GOP presidential race, President Obama’s “hot mike” moment with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and the Obama administration’s handling of its new regulations regarding contraception and religious-affiliated institutions.
On the hot mike incident – during which Obama told Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” in dealing with missile defense after the November election – Biden said that the president “just stated the obvious.”
“The idea that in this election year we’re going to be able to deal with an agreement with the Russians on further reducing our nuclear arsenals in the environment that we have in the United Nations Congress now is difficult,” he said. “And what the president was doing is stating the obvious. That it’s going to be difficult. . . .We’re not going to have the flexibility to sit down and talk with people in this Congress that are going to be able to listen and be able to work with us, probably between now and Election Day.”
Asked about former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s (R) criticism of Obama on the incident, Biden turned the focus back on the GOP frontrunner.
“Speaking of flexible, Gov. Romney’s a pretty flexible guy on his positions,” Biden said. He then poked a little fun at his own propensity to slip up in front of an open microphone, telling Schieffer, “And, by the way, I know a little bit about unguarded moments with microphones.”
Romney doubled down last week on his criticism of Obama after the episode, penning a Foreign Policy op-ed in which he charged that the president was “bowing to the Kremlin” – a response that Biden contended Sunday had “exposes how little the governor knows about foreign policy.”
“He acts like he thinks the Cold War’s still on,” Biden said. “Russia is still our major adversary. I don’t know where he’s been. I mean we have disagreements with Russia but they’re united with us on Iran. . . .This is not 1956.”
Biden declined to say whether he thought Romney, who currently holds a wide lead in the GOP delegate count, would go on to win the Republican presidential nod. But he took aim at the former Massachusetts governor on a broad range of issues, accusing him of being “a little out of touch” for opposing the auto industry bailout and opposing the national health care law.
“Everywhere I go in the country there’s millions of people out there that are benefiting now,” Biden said of the health care law. “There are those people with chronic diseases like cancer don’t have to worry about getting a phone call saying, ‘You’re cut off. Your insurance has run out.’ ... And what is the Romney answer? There’s nothing. All they argue is, ‘Cut. Get rid of that. Get rid of that.’”
Reprising a theme that Obama has hit hard both in his State of the Union address and on the trail in recent weeks, Biden framed the upcoming election as one that will hinge on the middle class.
“This is about the middle class,” he said. “And what affects middle class people are jobs, being able to own a home, being able to live in a safe neighborhood, being able to send their kid to college. It’s about their dignity. This is about the middle class. And none of what (Romney is) offering does anything. It’s just returning to the old policies.”
Biden also argued that what makes this election different from previous ones is that Republicans “aren’t hiding the ball” when it comes to their party’s positions on the economy, health care, education, social policy and other issues.
“They’re saying exactly what they think,” Biden said of the Republican Party. “They’re not talking about compassionate conservatism. They’re not talking about the need for healthcare in America, but ‘We have a different way.’ They’re not talking about public education being the key to economic growth and stability in the country. They’re just saying straight up what they believe. And so in that sense I think this is going to be an incredibly stark choice the American people are going to have.”
He added that the GOP as a whole “is not your father’s Republican Party.. . . It seems there’s almost a different language.”
As the GOP field has hammered Obama on rising gas prices, Biden on Sunday defended the administration’s efforts and argued that “we’re pumping 650,000 barrels of oil a day more than we did when we took office.”
“These guys, what are they offering?” he said of the Republican presidential hopefuls. “$2.50 gas there, I think at least one of them is offering that. ... And what’s their policy? Continue a $4 billion tax cut for the oil companies? Drill more? Where are they going to drill more now that can produce something now? And they’re going out there and they’re emasculating all the efforts to deal with renewable energy. And so they have no policy.”
On the contraception debate that roiled the country’s politics earlier this year – and over which there had reportedly been conflict within the White House -- Biden said Sunday that Obama “ended up exactly where he intended and were he began, which was that one, every woman in America should be able to have insurance coverage for birth control if she so chooses, and that the Catholic church and other churches should not have to pay for it or provide it.”
“For the record, is that what you advised the president?” Schieffer asked Biden.
“Yes. But that’s also where the President was on the front end,” Biden said.