Sen. John McCain on bipartisanship at White House health summit

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 1:37 PM

Mr. President, I'm going to turn now (inaudible).

MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for doing this. And I understand the four categories, but there's a big category that people in my state and across this country are deeply concerned about, and that's not just the product that we are examining today, the 2,400 pages, but the process we've gone through to reach that.

Now, both of us during the campaign promised change in Washington. In fact, eight times you said that negotiations on health care reform would be conducted with the C-SPAN cameras. I'm glad more than a year later that they are here.

Unfortunately, this product was not produced in that fashion. It was produced behind closed doors. It was produced with unsavory -- I say that with respect -- dealmaking -- the Louisiana purchase, funding of $300 million for one state; the Cornhusker kickback, which is I understand now been done away with.

One of the things that, the provisions of this legislation that was particularly offensive was the carve-out for 800,000 Florida seniors exempt from cuts in Medicare Advantage program. There's 330,000 seniors under Medicare Advantage in my home state of Arizona. They're deeply concerned about that. They're deeply concerned about carve-outs for Vermont and Massachusetts, Hawaii, Michigan, Connecticut -- $100 million for a hospital in Connecticut. Why -- why should that happen? They don't understand it.

And at the town hall meetings that I conducted all over my state, people are angry. We promised them change in Washington and what we got was a process that you and I both said we would change in Washington. So then we got into the special interests, whether it be the Hospital Association or the AMA or others.

And one of them that was particularly egregious, and I won't go through the whole list, was PhRMA. PhRMA got an $80 billion deal and in return for which they ran $150 million worth of ads in favor of, quote, "health reform." Their over $2 million a year lobbyist was here at the White House and was reported to say in the media "a deal is a deal."

And part of that deal was that there would not be competition among pharmaceutical companies for -- for Medicare patients. The other, well, among others, was that the administration would oppose drug re-importation from Canada, a proposal that you supported in the United States Senate.

OBAMA: John, if I could say...


MCCAIN: Could I just finish, please?

And then at Christmas Day, I believe it was Christmas, the majority leader said, quote, "A number of states are treated differently than other states. That's what legislation is all about. That's compromise." "Compromise" is not the word for that.

So when my constituents and Americans now who overwhelming reject this proposal say go back to the beginning, they want us to go back to the beginning. They want us not to do this kind of legislating. They want us to sit down together and do what's best for all Americans, not just for some people that live in Florida or happen to live in other favored states. They want a uniform treatment of all Americans.

So I hope that that would be an argument for us to go through this 2,400-page document, remove all the special deals for the special interests and favored few, and treat all Americans the same under provisions of the law so that they will know that geography does not dictate what kind of health care they would receive.

I thank you, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore.

OBAMA: The election's over.


MCCAIN: Well, I -- I'm reminded of that every day.


OBAMA: Well, I -- yes. So, the -- we can spend the remainder of the time with our respective talking points, going back and forth. We were supposed to be talking about insurance.

You know, obviously, I'm sure that Harry Reid and Chris Dodd and others who went through an exhaustive process, through the both -- the House and the Senate, with the most hearings, the most debates on the floor, the longest markup in 22 years on each and every one of these bills would have a response for you.

My concern is is that if we do that, then we're essentially back on Fox News or MSNBC on the split screen just arguing back and forth. So, my hope would be that we can just focus on the issues of how we actually get a bill done.

And this would probably be a good time to turn it over to Secretary Sebelius who...

MCCAIN: Could I just say, Mr. President, the American people care about what we did and how we did it...


MCCAIN: ... and I think we ought -- and that's a subject that I think we should discuss. And I thank you.

OBAMA: They absolutely do care about it, John. And I think that the way you characterized it obviously would get some strong objections from the other side.

We can have a debate about process or we can have a debate about how we're actually going to help the American people at this point. And I think that's -- the latter debate's the one that they care about a little bit more.

© 2010 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive