Friday, January 29, 2010;
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. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TENN.): Thank you, Mr. President.
And thank you for acknowledging that we have ideas on health care. Because, indeed, we do have ideas. We have plans. We have over 50 bills. We have lots of amendments that would bring health care ideas to the forefront.
We would -- we've got plans to lower cost, to change purchasing models, address medical liability, insurance accountability, chronic and preexisting conditions, and access to affordable care for those with those conditions, insurance portability, expanded access, but not doing it with creating more government, more bureaucracy and more cost for the American taxpayer.
And we look forward to sharing those ideas with you. We want to work with you on health reform and making certain that we do it in an affordable, cost-effective way that is going to reduce bureaucracy, reduce government interference and reduce costs to individuals and to taxpayers.
And if those good ideas aren't making it to you, maybe it's the House Democrat leadership that is an impediment instead of a conduit.
OBAMA: Well, no . . .
BLACKBURN: But we're concerned also that there are lessons learned from public option health care plans that maybe are not being heeded. And certainly in my state of Tennessee, we were the test case for public option health care in 1994. And our Democrat government has even cautioned that maybe our experiences there would provide some lessons learned that should be heeded and would provide guidance for us to go forward.
And as you said, what we should be doing is tossing old ideas out, bad ideas out, and moving forward and refining good ideas. And certainly we would welcome that opportunity.
So my question to you is, when will we look forward to starting anew and sitting down with you to put all of these ideas on the table, to look at these lessons learned, to benefit from that experience, and to produce a product that is going to reduce government interference, reduce cost and be fair to the American taxpayer?
OBAMA: Actually, I've gotten many of your ideas. I've taken a look at them, even before I was handed this.
Some of the ideas we have embraced and are in our package.
Some of them are embraced with caveats. So let me give you an example.
I think one of the proposals that has been focused on by the Republicans as a way to reduce costs is allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines. We actually include that as part of our approach. But the caveat is we've got to do so with some minimum standards, because otherwise what happens is that you could have insurance companies circumvent a whole bunch of state regulations about, you know, basic benefits or what have you; making sure that a woman is able to get mammograms as part of preventive care, for example.
Part of what could happen is insurance companies could go into states and cherry-pick and just get those who are healthiest and leave behind those who are least healthy, which would raise everybody's premiums who weren't healthy, right?
So it's not that many of these ideas aren't workable, but we have to refine them to make sure that they don't just end up worsening the situation for folks rather than making it better.
Now, what I said at the State of the Union is what I still believe. If you can show me and if I get confirmation from health care experts, people who know the system and how it works, including doctors and nurses, ways of reducing people's premiums, covering those who do not have insurance, making it more affordable for small businesses, having insurance reforms that ensure people have insurance even when they've got preexisting conditions, that their coverage is not dropped just because they're sick, that young people right out of college or as they're entering in the workforce can still get health insurance -- if those component parts are things that you care about and want to do, I'm game.
And I've got -- and I've got a lot of these ideas.
The last thing I will say, though -- let me say this about health care and the health care debate because I think it also bears on a whole lot of other issues.
If you look at the package that we've presented -- and there's some stray cats and dogs that got in there that we were eliminating -- we were in the process of eliminating.
For example -- for example, you know, we said from the start that -- that it was going to be important for us to be consistent in saying to people if you can have your -- if you want to keep the health insurance you've got, you can keep it; that you're not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decision-making. And I think that some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge.
And so we were -- we were in the process of scrubbing this and making sure that it's tight.
But at its core, if you look at the basic proposal that we put forward, it has an exchange so that businesses and the self-employed can buy into a pool and can get bargaining power the same way big companies do, the insurance reforms that I've already discussed, making sure that there's choice and competition for those who don't have health insurance.
The component parts of this thing are pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year.
Now, you may not agree with Bob Dole and Howard Baker and Tom -- and certainly you don't agree with Tom Daschle on much . . .
. . . but that's not a radical bunch. But if you were to listen to the debate, and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.
No, I mean, that's how you guys -- that's how you guys presented it.
And so I'm thinking to myself, "Well, how is it that a plan that is pretty centrist . . . "
No, look, I mean, I'm just saying -- I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans -- it -- it's similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.
So all I'm saying is we've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality.
I'm not suggesting that we're going to agree on everything, whether it's on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don't have a lot of room to negotiate with me.
I mean, the fact of the matter is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, "This guy's doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America."
And I -- I would just say that we have to think about tone.
It's not just on your side, by the way. It's -- it's on our side as well. This is part of what's happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.
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