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Price questions Obama at House GOP conference

Friday, January 29, 2010; 2:08 PM

After addressing the GOP House Issues Conference in Baltimore on Friday, President Obama took a series of questions from the lawmakers. Here is a transcript of one of the questions posed to the president:

REP. TOM PRICE (R-Ga.): I want to stick on -- on the general topic of health care, but ask a very specific question.

You have repeatedly said, most recently at -- at the State of the Union, that Republicans have offered no ideas and no solutions, in spite of the fact . . .

OBAMA: I don't think I said that.

What I said was within the context of health care -- I remember that speech pretty well. It was only two days ago.

(LAUGHTER)

I said I'd welcome ideas that you might provide.

I didn't say that you haven't provided ideas. I said I'd welcome those ideas that you'll provide.

PRICE: Mr. President, multiple times from your administration there have come statements that Republicans have no ideas and no solutions, in spite of that fact that we've offered, as demonstrated today, positive solutions to all of the challenges we face, including energy and the economy and health care.

Specifically, in the area of health care, this bill, H.R. 3400, that has more cosponsors than any health care bill in the House. It is a bill that would provide health coverage for all Americans, would correct the significant insurance challenges of portability and preexisting, would solve the lawsuit abuse issue, which isn't addressed significantly in the other proposals that went through the House and the Senate, would write into law that medical decisions are made between patients and families and doctors, and does all of that without raising taxes by a penny.

But my specific question is, what should we tell our constituents who know that Republicans have offered positive solutions to the challenges that Americans face and yet continue to hear out of the administration that we've offered nothing?

OBAMA: Tell them I -- look, I have to say, that on the -- let's just take the health care debate. And it's probably not constructive for us to try to debate a particular bill. This isn't the venue to do it.

But if you say that we can offer coverage for all Americans and it won't cost a penny, that's just not true. You can't structure a bill where suddenly 30 million people have coverage and it costs nothing.

If . . .

(CROSSTALK)

PRICE: . . . and I understand that we're not interested in debating this bill.

OBAMA: Sir . . .

PRICE: But what should we tell our constituents, who know that we've offered these solutions, and yet hear from the administration that -- that we have offered nothing?

OBAMA: Let me -- I'm using this as a specific example, so let me answer your question. You asked a question, I want to answer it.

It's not enough, if you say, for example, that we've offered a health care plan and I look up -- this is just under the section that you've just provided me -- or the book that you've just provided me, "Summary of GOP Health Care Reform Bill."

"The GOP plan will lower health care premiums for American families and small businesses, addressing America's number one priority for health reform."

I mean, that's an idea that we all embrace. But specifically it's got to work. I mean, there's got to be a mechanism in these plans that I can go to an independent health care expert and say, "Is this something that will actually work or is it boilerplate?"

You know, if I'm told, for example, that the solution to dealing with health care costs is tort reform, something that I've said I am willing to work with you on, but the CBO or other experts say to me, you know, "At best, this could reduce health care costs relative to where they're growing by a couple of percentage points or save $5 billion a year, that's what we can score it at, and it will not bend the cost curve long term or reduce premiums significantly," then you can't make the claim that that's the only thing that we have to do.

If we're going to do multi-state insurance so that people can go across state lines, I've got to be able to go to an independent health care expert, Republican or Democrat, who can tell me that this won't result in cherry-picking of the healthiest going to some and the least healthy being worse off.

So I am absolutely committed to working with you on these issues. But it can't just be political assertions that aren't substantiated when it comes to the actual details of policy, because otherwise we're going to be selling the American people a bill of goods.

I mean, the easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that, "What you're going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms, we're going to lower the cost of Medicare and Medicaid, and it won't cost anybody anything." That's great politics. It's just not true.

So there's got to be some test of realism in any of these proposals, mine included. I've got to hold myself accountable, and I guarantee the American people will hold themselves -- will hold me accountable if what I'm selling doesn't actually deliver.

REP MIKE PENCE (R-IND.): Mr. President, a point of clarification.

What's in the "Better Solutions" book are all the legislative proposals that were offered . . .

OBAMA: Oh, I understand. I've actually read your bills.

PENCE: . . . throughout 2009.

OBAMA: I understand.

PENCE: And so rest assured the summary document that you received is backed up by precisely the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker Pelosi and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months.

OBAMA: Well, Mike, hold on, hold on a second.

(APPLAUSE)

No, no, no, no, no. Hold on a second guys.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, Mike, I've read your legislation. I mean, I take a look at this stuff. And the good ideas we take.

But here -- here's the thing, here's the thing, I guess, that all of us have to be mindful of. It can't be all-or-nothing one way or the other, all right?

You -- you -- and what I mean by that is this. If we put together a stimulus package in which a third of it are tax cuts that normally you guys would support, and support for states and the unemployed and helping people stay on COBRA that your governors certainly would support, Democrat or Republican. And then you've got some infrastructure, and maybe there's some things in there that you don't like in terms of infrastructure, or you think the bill should have been $500 billion instead of $700 billion, or there's this provision or that provision that you don't like.

If there's uniform opposition because the Republican caucus doesn't get 100 percent or 80 percent of what you want, then it's going to be hard to get a deal done. That's because that's not how democracy works.

So my hope would be that we can look at some of these components parts of what we're doing, and maybe we break some of them up on different policy issues. So if the good congressman from Utah has a particular issue on lobbying reform that he wants to work with us on, we may not be able to agree on a comprehensive package on everything, but there may be some component parts that we can work on.

You may not support our overall jobs package, but if you look at the tax credit that we're proposing for small businesses right now, it is consistent with a lot of what you guys have said in the past. And just the fact that it's my administration that's proposing it shouldn't prevent you from supporting it.

That's my point.

Copyright 2010 FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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