Ezra Klein Interviews Sen. Lindsey Graham on Health-Care Reform

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sen. Lindsey Graham was the sole Republican on the

Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of Sonia

Sotomayor. A few days later, he co-signed an op-ed in The Washington Post with six Senate Democrats and four other Senate Republicans that began, "We refuse to let partisanship kill health reform." If there's a deal to be made on health care, he'll probably be at the center of it. Graham (S.C.) spoke with The Post's Ezra Klein about reform, the pitfalls of

bipartisanship and the difference between buying a car and having a heart attack. Excerpts:

Is there a deal to be made here?

The bargain that will eventually be made is that Republicans will give in to the idea that every American should have coverage mandated, like car insurance. There's resistance to that because it runs counter to some of their doctrine. But Democrats need to understand that there won't be a public option anytime soon, if ever. Every big issue gets boiled down to one phrase. The public option in many ways has become to health care what "amnesty" was to immigration or "privatization" was to Social Security.

Why is the public plan the central fight in health-care reform?

My belief is that no private-sector entity can survive over a long period of time competing against the government. The public option will be written by politicians. It will be generous. Nobody in my business worries about the bottom line. Eventually the public option will dominate the marketplace because the political forces are different than the economic forces in the private sector. Eventually, the private sector will give way. We already have Medicaid and Medicare. The private sector covers the middle. If a public option becomes part of that mix, you'll have the whole deal covered by the government. That's why I'm against it.

If you could start from scratch, would you scrap Medicare?

No. Medicare was a safety net for those seniors who couldn't afford coverage. I buy into the idea of everyone having health coverage. You can have the public-private partnership in retirement. You can have a government-run system for those who are needy. But above that, it's best for the private sector to cover people. There's still a government role. The government helps people buy their health care in the private sector. To me, that's proper. I don't mind helping people be covered in retirement. We're not going to get rid of Medicare, and there's no reason to get rid of it.

It seems that day by day the negotiations in the Senate are becoming more poisonous. But it's hard to tell the people who are negotiating in good faith from those who are trying to delay the bill and hand the president a defeat.


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