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Arizona Senator Jon Kyl on the prospects for Obamacare

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
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HH: We begin this hour with our favorite Senator, Arizona’s Jon Kyl, the Republican Whip in the United States Senate. Senator Kyl, always a pleasure, hope you’re having a little bit of time away from work while you’re on the break from Washington, D.C.

JK: Well, Hugh, thank you very much. Yes, I am having a little bit of time off, but it’s always good to be visiting with you and your listeners.

HH: Thank you. Now you had a conference call today with some bloggers that’s been picked up at the Huffington Post and others, in which you talked about the Republican position on health cooperatives. I’ll just let you explain it rather than quote other people. What were you trying to get across today?

JK: Well, the question that was asked was if they go from a public option, or the government run health insurance company, and instead call it a cooperative, and there was one other change, oh, if they took out the mandatory counseling every five years for people on Medicare about end of life options, then could I support the Democratic legislation. And of course, I said no, those were just two features. They’re important, but there’s a lot more to the bill than that. And so then the follow up question was well, how could you be against a cooperative? That’s the compromise position. And the answer is really twofold. As Harry Reid has said, Max Baucus, Chuck Schumer and others, a cooperative, to be effective in their eyes, has to have the essential features of a government-run insurance company. So the reality is that you can call it whatever you want to, as Harry Reid says. As long as it fulfills the purpose of a government-run insurance company, then that’s all they care about. And the purpose is to eventually drive the private insurance companies out of business. As a result, you would end up with government-run health insurance, and that’s something that I oppose. So while a cooperative, depending on how it’s constructed, wouldn’t be perhaps initially quite as onerous as a government-run health insurance company, it’s recognized to be just another step along the way toward total government control. So naturally I oppose it. And the second point is it doesn’t solve anything. What’s the problem that a cooperative is supposed to solve? Well, they’ve offered up several different justifications. First, they’ve said well, you need to keep the insurance companies honest. Insurance companies are one of the most highly regulated industries in the country. Every state has an insurance commissioner that regulates health insurance. Well, we need to provide competition. Well, there 1,300 private insurance companies. And one more company isn’t going to help that. And then they well, but we need a non-profit option. 61% of the insurance companies are non-profit. Well, you know, and then they have some other excuses. One is there aren’t enough people in the state for regular insurance companies, so the rates are high, and they have a monopoly. And the question is, of course, well, what does adding another insurance company do to solve that problem? So it doesn’t much matter what the excuse or justification offered up is. There’s no need for it unless you’re a left winger that wants to take over health care, and that is a giant step toward government-run health care.

HH: Well explained. Thank you, Senator. Now in terms of the overall battle, it’s been a bad week for the President, bad couple of weeks for the President’s plan, as Americans begin to say no, not now, not ever, never. But it’s far from over. I’m afraid Republicans are saying hey, declare victory and go home for the summer. Is that a concern of yours, Senator Kyl?

JK: It’s not really a concern, because we were concerned about the same thing before we left Washington. We talked it over, both the House Republicans and Senate Republicans, and all agreed that all we did, really, was to get in the playoffs here by pushing this into the August recess. And the August recess was kind of like the first game of the playoffs. And if you didn’t play the game well, you could still lose. And so we all decided to go back to our own states and districts, and do town halls, and talk to our constituents, and see if in fact the polls are correct that people are now very strongly opposed to this kind of health policy. And so far, I think that’s proving to be the case. So no, we’re not taking anything for granted, and I know that with Obama out there every day, and his Cabinet people, there’s going to be a real strong push to try to get this thing done as soon as we get back in September.

HH: Now Senator Kyl, the President has done some deals with Big PhRMA, and with AARP in particular. Are you surprised that Big PhRMA has done this agreement, which clearly is a sort of appeasement at the domestic level?

JK: In a way, I am, and in another way, I’m not. It’s interesting how these big industries will ask only one question – what’s in it for me. They’re really not concerned about the general welfare. And they thought that they could trust the Obama administration to make a deal with them, and they got two or three things out of the deal that they thought were important in exchange for which they would support the President’s plan. Well now, it transpires that maybe the Senate didn’t agree. Even leadership in the House is saying that they weren’t in on the deal. And it’s like a lot of these political situations, you can make the deal initially, but executing it after the people find about it is quite another matter. And I gather people are now finding out about it, and the same thing with AARP. I just read this morning 60,000 people have left AARP in the last ten days or so because of AARP’s support for the President’s proposal.

HH: Now Senator Kyl, I also wanted to talk to you about a breaking story concerning David Axelrod that’s begun to develop over Saturday, and I talked with Ken Vogel and Mike Allen of Politico about it today. He is, Mr. Axelrod is owed $2 million dollars in installment payments from how old firm. His old firm is now receiving tens of millions of dollars in fees, or at least millions of dollars in fees, it could be as high as tens of millions of dollars in fees, from a coalition of people pushing for Obamacare, including Big PhRMA, AARP, SEIU, et cetera. It struck me immediately from my days in the White House Counsel’s Office that we’ve got an appearance of impropriety problem here. Does that strike you as odd?

JK: Yes, it does. I hadn’t heard about that, and it’s very odd. Well, and it’s more than odd. It does, as you’ve described it, suggest an impropriety, because he would be, and if the money is going not just to his firm but to him, if Axelrod is getting any benefit out of it, then clearly there’s something wrong here, because you’re not supposed to be serving in the White House, and then getting outside compensation like that.

HH: There’s no direct allegation, there’s no allegation of direct benefit, only that they’re pumping a lot of money into a firm that owes him $2 million. And that’s an indirect benefit, but nevertheless is a benefit.

JK: Yeah, obviously it deserves a little investigation. I suspect that if this had been something about Karl Rove and the Bush administration, we’d be hearing a lot about it.

HH: We’d be having special prosecutors called for immediately.

JK: Yeah, probably so.

HH: …which brings me to the issue of the special prosecutor that shouldn’t be appointed, the one that Eric Holder is considering appointing to investigate interrogation techniques. Senator Kyl, you follow this, you’re a Constitutional lawyer, you’ve been on Judiciary forever. What do you think about this? It’s a disaster.

JK: It’s an outrage. It shouldn’t happen. I drafted a letter which several other Senators have joined me, and it’s either been sent or it will be sent tomorrow morning. But I think the actual letter went out today to Attorney General Holder asking him to please reconsider and not do that. There’s several things wrong with it. First of all, if the Attorney General needs to investigate something, there’s no reason to appoint a special counsel. He can, his people are perfectly capable of doing that themselves. And there are special problems with special counsel, as you’re aware. But more importantly, of course, this is the absolute worst thing you can do to chill the kind of activity that the 9/11 Commission warned us needed to be done in order to find, ferret out, and disrupt the plans of terrorists. If you can’t get good intelligence because all of your intelligence agents are afraid that they’re going to get sued, or worse, they’re going to get prosecuted for something that maybe five years later somebody doesn’t like, you’re not going to get the kind of intelligence that you need. And that was explicitly warned of by the 9/11 Commission, and Holder really ought to read that commission report before he moves forward with this.

HH: Well, I’m also amazed, because I guess people forget history, I know that you don’t, that when a special prosecutor gets going, they have to follow any thread that’s put in front of them. And some of those threads are going to run right into the Obama administration, because they’ve been interrogating people, and there could be allegations about how they’ve done it, and under what circumstances they’ve allowed rendition or other issues to go forward. I’m just amazed that everyone thinks that it always works out for them, but that they can use these tools which have been shown time and time again to wreak havoc on the orderly working of government.

JK: Well, that’s exactly the problem. And as you point out, it’s not just people in the former Bush administration. It’s current employees of the FBI, of the CIA, of the DIA, all of our intelligence agencies, and potentially other people in the Obama administration. But…and the reason for my first comment about the special prosecutor is that they don’t have the same kind of constraints that the Justice Department does in deciding whether or not to pursue a case. There are rules and regulations that Justice goes by, and they’re fairly sensible. A special prosecutor, almost my definition, has to find something to justify his pay.

HH: Last question, Senator Kyl, in terms of the political dynamic in the country right now, do you sense that there is a significant shift back to the conservative direction that has dominated national politics for much of the time since 1980?

JK: Well, the shift is occurring. Now we’ll have to see how far it goes, but…and whether it’ll pay political benefits in the next election. But there’s no doubt that the honeymoon for Obama is over. All of the polls show that his popularity is decreasing. His job approval is now negative. They don’t like the centerpiece of his legislative agenda, the health care policy. And so I think the tide has turned. The momentum certainly is with us now, and now it’s up to us to take advantage of the situation, and make the best of it in terms of policy. And the politics will take care of itself.

HH: Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, have a great break, Senator, always a pleasure. I appreciate your time.

End of interview.

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