Alexander, Dean, Gingrich and Podesta Discuss Health Care on 'Fox News Sunday'
Panel Talks the 'Trigger' Option, Incrementalism and Obama's Messaging

CQ Transcriptswire
Sunday, September 6, 2009 12:55 PM

GINGRICH: ... Mrs. Clinton came to see us in 1993, and we gave her our best advice, which is don't do a comprehensive bill. I said to her at the time, "Do one bill a year for eight years, assuming you get re- elected. After eight bills get through and signed, you'll have significantly changed the system."

No one can write a single bill. If the president comes in Wednesday night and says, "Instead of a 1,300-page bill, I want a 1,200-page bill" -- and I think what Mr. Podesta said was very important. The country actually is not as interested in what the president wants as what the country wants.

The country has for two months been trying to tell the president it does not want government rationing, it does not want bigger spending, it does not want decisions centralized in Washington.

Now, the country's been clear in 1,000-person town hall meetings, in every poll I've seen -- the Gallup data is devastating on this. If the president were to come in and say, "Let's try to get five bills between now and Christmas. Let's get litigation reform," which is the most popular single thing. "Let's get reform of paying the crooks in Medicare and Medicaid," which 88 percent of the country and Zogby said they would like to have as a first source of money -- because our estimate is you've got 70 to $120 billion a year of theft.

There are a number of specific bills you could pass with huge bipartisan majorities. The country would calm down. The president would be much stronger by Christmas. And we'd get a lot done.

CHRIS WALLACE (Host): All right. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of this entire debate is that with a Democratic president, a pro-reform president, and big Democratic majorities in both houses that health care reform is in such trouble.

Let's take a look at the different ways that Mr. Obama has tried to sell health care reform over the last few months.


OBAMA: It includes a historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform, a down payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.



OBAMA: Over time, what we can do is bend the cost curve so that instead of having inflation go up a lot faster on health care than everything else, it matches everything else.



OBAMA: They're going to be more regulated so that they can't deny you care because of pre-existing condition, or because you changed jobs, or because they decided you're too sick and not a good risk.


WALLACE: Governor Dean, fair to say that when you offer three -- and maybe there -- I -- maybe it's actually four or five different messages -- that means you don't have one message?

HOWARD DEAN: Well, let me just correct something the speaker said. You know, it is true that people don't want rationing. There is none in the bill. It is true that people don't want death penalties. There aren't any in the bill.

So a lot of the things that you heard at the town meetings were essentially straw men set up by the right and then knocked down by the right. But none of that stuff is in the bill.

Look, I think -- I think all four of us would agree that the president needs to give a strong, clear message about what he wants.

WALLACE: And has he done so, Governor? Has he done so so far? DEAN: Well, I think that he has, but, you know, that's -- that was the whole purpose from the Republican side of trying to muddy the waters and bring up all these issues that had nothing to do with the bill over the summer.

And we got debate on those things, but that really wasn't debating about anything that was in the bill. So I think the president gets another chance to clearly say what's in the bill, what he wants, and that we're going to move forward.

The president is the president. He was elected by a very big majority. We have very big majorities in the House and the Senate. My experience in politics is if you don't use your majorities, you lose your majorities.

WALLACE: Speaker Gingrich...

GINGRICH: Chris, I...

WALLACE: ... for a moment, forget policy. Just as a political professional, what has -- over the last six months, what has Barack Obama done wrong in selling his program?

GINGRICH: Well, look. First of all, he's very talented and he's very articulate, and I think they're a very attractive family, so he has a lot going for him.

I think there are a couple of big things. One is James Carville's old line. It's the economy, stupid. The fact is this country is drifting towards 10 or 10.5 percent unemployment. They'd like to know -- don't tell me about the next three issues, tell me what you're going to do about jobs.

Second, the reaction in this country to big government spending has been, even to me, amazing. The American people overwhelmingly are terrified of the level of deficit spending they see coming. They think it's giving away their future and their children's future, and so they're measuring everything that happens through these two prisms. Is it going to affect jobs? Is it going to affect debt?

And on the health plan, the president, as you just pointed out, offered a wide range of conversations, none of which came down to there'll be more jobs and we'll do it for less money. In fact, they're talking about doing it for a lot more money. And the American public is saying stop.

And I think this is a political problem. That's why I said a while ago very clever presidents like Roosevelt and Reagan listen carefully and modulate where they're going within the framework of what the American people will accept.

WALLACE: Let me pick up on that with you, Mr. Podesta. I mean, what about the argument people are -- there's fatigue about huge government programs, huge government spending, deficits. And particularly at a time when people are mostly concerned about the economy, the last thing they want is another trillion-dollar program.

JOHN PODESTA: Well, look. The president inherited a lousy economy that was heading to a depression and huge deficits. And he's tried to do something about that.

WALLACE: But -- all right. Even if you argue -- even if you accept that, why make it worse?

PODESTA: He's tried to do something about that first with the recovery bill that he passed earlier this year that's beginning to show signs of working. The economy is bottoming out.

And it's essential that we fix this health care problem. And I think if you talk to CEOs, or small business people, or families who have seen their premiums doubled over the last eight years, they'll tell you, "My economic security depends on secure health care that's affordable." And that's what he's trying to accomplish.

WALLACE: Senator Alexander, I want to ask you about something the president almost certainly won't talk about in his speech on Wednesday night, and that is the idea that they -- that Democrats may decide to just ignore the Republicans and push health care reform through the Senate through a parliamentary device associated with the budget called reconciliation, which means they won't need 60 votes to prevent a filibuster. They'll only need 51 votes.

You have said, and I quote, "That would wreck the Democratic Party and create a," quote, "'minor revolution in this country.'" Why?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER: Well, for two reasons. One, it would create a bad health care bill because under the provisions in the rules, the parliamentarian would write the bill, so all the senators would be voting on are tax increases or Medicare cuts, and you wouldn't get to put in the bill things like pre-existing conditions or buying insurance across party lines. So it would be a bad bill.

Second, it would be thumbing your nose at the American people who have been trying to say to Washington for the last several months, "Slow down. I mean, too many Washington takeovers, too much debt. You're meddling with my health care." Let's go step by step and do some things to reduce costs.

So thumbing their nose at the American people by ramming through a partisan bill would be the same thing as going to war without asking Congress' permission. You might technically be able to do it, but you'd pay a terrible price in the next election.

DEAN: See, actually, Chris, I disagree with that. I think this has been used 23 times before, including by George Bush's really controversial tax cuts when he first got in. And I don't think the American people care about the process. I think they care about the result.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive