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Kansas Senator Pat Roberts on the health care debate.

Thursday, August 13, 2009
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CPL: As a special treat, joining us in studio, we have Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, one of my personal favorite senators to watch on Sunday morning news shows because of his flinty opposition to all kinds of left wing lunacy. And so Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

PR: It’s my privilege to be here, and we were just rocking along with the intro music.

CPL: Absolutely. It’s all good.

PR: I’m very glad Hugh’s up in Montana going fly fishing. That’s the place he ought to be, and he’ll catch some fish, he’ll have great fish stories to tell when he gets back.

CPL: And no doubt Duane will have pictures of Hugh attempting to fly fish posted at some point, so we’ll all want to see those. But in any case, Senator Roberts of course has given distinguished service as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and down the road a little bit, we’re going to talk about a few of those issues. But first, let’s start with what’s on everyone’s mind these days, and that’s health care, Senator. Just to unspool it sort of one topic at a time, in looking at whatever contours the Obamacare package now currently is in, and it’s very difficult to discern, what in your view is the greatest substantive, we’ll get to the procedural issues surrounding what the Democrats are trying to do with this, but substantively, what in your view is the biggest problem with the bill as currently anyone can discern it to be?

PR: Well, right now, it’s cost. I think the American people have finally figured out that this is trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars. And you can break down health care any way you want. If you want to have access to health care, you want it to be affordable, you want it obviously to be a situation where you have patient choice of your doctor, and you and your doctor will make the decisions of what’s best for you and your family, on all three accounts, I think the American people are waking up to the fact that the Obama bill, and there is no Obama bill, by the way. You have a House bill that’s passed, and then you have a Senate bill that was passed, but we haven’t seen it yet. That’s something rather remarkable in of itself. But on all three of those issues, I think more and more people are taking a hard look and then, what is it Lorrie Morgan sang? What part of no don’t you understand?

CPL: Yeah, right. Absolutely. And as we move through, I mean, we’ve seen some pretty remarkable behavior at some of these town halls. I mean, people finally are beginning to sort of become aware of the enormity of what the Democrats are trying to foist on Americans. And I think a lot of them aren’t happy. In your view, is this just sort of this sort of right wing phenomenon the way the media is trying to spin it? Or is there something much deeper at work, Senator?

PR: Oh, I think probably the national media would have called any group like this, what, citizen petitioners about two years ago. I know the term angry mob has been used a lot, but I think these are people that defy party affiliation. It would be interesting to try to figure out which party people belong to, and probably most of them are independents to begin with. But I think it’s been a series of water drop incidents that each one had quite a splash on the consciousness of the American people. To start off with, TARP – TARP was an effort to try to get the toxic assets out of our banking system so that our small community banks all the way up to the big banks could certainly help us with our national economic problems, and we could get out of that situation a lot faster. Well, it didn’t go there.

CPL: Right.

PR: It went out to bail out the big banks. And right after that, why, you had an omnibus chock full of earmarks, and right after that, you had a stimulus. Still, we’re trying to figure out what the criteria is for the stimulus, why more funds aren’t being released, who is actually in charge, who is actually going to implement all of these programs, what’s the criteria used? Even our state governors don’t know that, and we’re talking about a great deal of money there. I think it was about $800 billion dollars. Then you’ll look at the federal budget as proposed by the President, and we’re talking trillions of dollars. And if you really extend that out for the life of the budget ten years, we’re in the neighborhood of somewhere between $9 – $11 trillion dollars, maybe even more. And if you add in some of the other programs that we’re considering, cap and trade, and things like that, why, the American people are saying wait a minute. Who’s going to pay for this? And the one thing I always say when people come in my office and say I’d like some help on this particular stimulus project or whatever we’re talking about, when they leave I say just remember one thing – it’s not your money. It’s your grandkids.

CPL: Right. And you know, it seems too often a lot of the elected representatives in Washington forget it isn’t their money, it’s the taxpayers’. But luckily, that’s a problem you’ve never had, Senator Roberts. Now we have a twelve second cut of Barack Obama, and we’d love to play it and get your reaction to some of his claims about health care.

PR: Sure

BHO: Here’s a guarantee that I’ve made. If you have insurance that you like, then you will be able to keep that insurance. If you’ve got a doctor that you like, you will be able to keep your doctor.

CPL: Those are simple untruths, are they not, Senator Roberts? I mean, this idea that you can, he’s guaranteeing you’ll keep your coverage, that you’ll be able to keep your doctor. Given the contours of what we’ve seen, there is simply no way he can truthfully guarantee either of those things, is there?

PR: Well, I think that’s the goal, or at least what he apparently believes, but those are the three things that most people are concerned about when they really take a look at the House bill, we haven’t seen the Senate bill. By the way, that was passed in committee a month ago, and we haven’t even seen a printed copy. We were amending bills when we hadn’t even seen the bill. I’ve never seen a situation like that before.

CPL: And how can that happen? How can that happen under the Senate rules, Senator Roberts? I mean, wouldn’t it seem as though it would be some sort of an abrogation of an oath or something for people to be voting and working on legislation that none of them has seen, or that very few of them has seen?

PR: Well, it’s a total abrogation of the process of the Senate. In the House, that’s a pretty wild and wooly bunch. But in the Senate, at least, we’re supposed to be deliberative, whatever that means.

CPL: Yeah.

PR: They’re usually blaming us for slowing things down.

CPL: Right.

PR: Thank goodness we have somebody in the Senate to slow it down. And thank goodness we have the American people who are showing up at these town hall meetings to slow it down. But on the three things that the President said, there…there are things in these bills that engage policy or implement policy that basically abrogate what he’s saying. It’s just not correct. One of the things I’m terribly worried about is something called comparative effectiveness research. That sounds pretty good, but if it’s used for cost containment for senior citizens to determine whether or not a senior citizen can have a particular procedure, or which doctor they’re going to see, then you’re right back smack dab in the middle of what we have in Great Britain, and nobody wants that.

CPL: Absolutely, because I mean in a sense, it’s just rationing. That’s the plain and simple term for it. But Senator, as we go on, could you talk a little bit about what Chuck Schumer is trying to do? I mean, I know a lot of this procedural stuff is inside baseball, but this is a sophisticated audience that I think would be very interested in some of the really desperate procedural maneuverings the Democrats are resorting to in an effort to ram through something, anything to claim victory on “health care reform”.

PR: Well, I think there’s been some press statements, and Chuck made a very what, emphatic statement. I think he’s backed off of it a little bit. But he indicated that if we could not get this done under regular order, i.e. going through the Finance Committee, we’re the pay for committee, we have to pay for it, and by the way, all the funds have to come from the health care arena or the health care system. I don’t know how you pay for a bill that may be $1.3 trillion, or $1.1 trillion. The chairman, Max Baucus, says $981 billion set aside. That includes, by the way, $500 billion in cuts in Medicare. You talk about rationing Medicare now…

CPL: Right.

PR: …which is happening, if you have $500 billion cuts in Medicare, look out. It also includes saddling our states with tremendous costs in regards to Medicaid. So what Chuck is saying is well we’ll just put it in the reconciliation bill, and you have to pass that anyway, so there, it’ll be done.

CPL: Well, and the idea, isn’t it, Senator, is that almost any bill in the Senate can theoretically be filibustered, so that you need 60 votes or so to get it through. But the problem is if they put it in the omnibus reconciliation bill, am I correct in believing that that means all you need is a majority?

PR: That is correct. That is correct. But I will tell you this. If they put this massive health care bill, with all of the problems that are involved, all the challenges we have with it, both pro and con, and they try to ram through that in a reconciliation bill, it will be all-out war.

CPL: Right.

PR: We will, it will be, from that moment on, and it almost is that way now, a partisan Senate from the word go. And I certainly hope that is not the case. We’ve had enough of these huge, giant bills come rolling through the Senate that have implications for generations to come without…you know, these bills should go to the committees of jurisdiction, have hearings, have markups, have an opportunity to amend the bill, or at least you have an alternative. That has not taken place. We did this with health care, with our health care bill.

CPL: Right. And Senator, we’ll be right back to talk more about this.

– – – –

CPL: We’re just going to wrap up a little bit on health care, talk a little defense, and 2010 politics. And Senator, where do you see this going? Do you think it’s too soon to tell what the outcome is going to be? And if you were a betting man, how do you see all this working out?

PR: Gee whiz, if I were a betting man, I sure wouldn’t be betting on this. I don’t know where it’s going, but I am absolutely delighted with the citizen participation in the town hall meetings. Again, this is not an angry mob. These are citizen petitioners who are very worried about their country. And I think they’re worried about a great many things, more especially Washington making decisions that they feel that they should be making, and they want their country back. So I think it’s a growing concern. I think that probably the Democrats are going to have to recalibrate. What was it he said? He’s have to recalibrate his words? I think they’re going to have to recalibrate. And then they’ll come back with health care reform, although it’s not health care reform anymore, Carol. It’s health insurance reform.

CPL: That’s right.

PR: So that’s a whole new emphasis. So they’ve already started that.

CPL: But you know you’re making some headway when they start having to recalibrate their words and recalibrate their terms that way?

PR: If they have to re-title the basics of their bill, they’re in trouble. But I think they’re in trouble all across the board, mainly because of this huge, huge, huge debt. You can’t even explain what a trillion dollars is, and then you play that out clear in ten years, and you worry about not only your kids but your grandkids. And there’s a tipping point here.

CPL: Yes.

PR: At what point does China quit buying our paper?

CPL: Right.

PR: And at that particular time, you’re going to have to raise interest rates. Then, you’re really going to be on the hot seat in regards to the economic situation in our country. So I think people understand that. Quite frankly, I think they’re damn tired of it, and I don’t think there’s a darn thing wrong with showing up at town hall meetings and expressing your view. I’ve been to town hall meetings. I’ve had somebody shake their finger in my face. I mean, that’s democracy. That’s what it’s all about.

CPL: Absolutely. And it strikes me for a lot of these politicians whining about it, if you can’t take the heat, you’re in the wrong line of work. But speaking of citizen participation, Salem has been gathering online signatures to tell Washington to keep their hands off our health care. And for anyone who’s interested, it’s at www.freeourhealthcarenow.com. Apparently, 1.1 million signatures have been collected. And in your view, Senator, do efforts like these make a difference? Do they matter? Do Senators and Congressmen pay attention to such things?

PR: Anytime a million people sign a petition, I think you’d better pay attention to it, and I think it’s climbing. I wouldn’t be surprised by the time they present the petition, it’ll probably be 1.3, 1.5 (million). Then, the whole effort will have to return back to those individuals to get them to contact their local representatives, contact their local Senators, become active participants in government, i.e. politics. Get in the ballgame. Get off the sidelines. Get on the playing field. When you sign that petition, then agree to say look, I’m going to follow this thing through.

CPL: Right.

PR: If that’s the case, and they meet with their individual members of Congress, people pay attention to that. They pay attention big time. And so if you have a hundred people wanting to meet with Congressman X or Senator Y, they will pay attention.

CPL: Okay, well you heard it, everyone. Go to www.freeourhealthcarenow.com, sign the petition. We’re also lucky, Senator Roberts is one of the Senate’s intelligence experts. And Senator, I was wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about this whole, crazy idea that the Obama administration has been purveying since its earliest days in office about bringing the Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, what that means for Kansas, what it means for American, and your views on some of this.

PR: Well, what it means to Kansas is everybody about every second foggy night, somebody puts in the press from the administration in a leak that they’re considering Fort Leavenworth. And Fort Leavenworth is the intellectual center of the Army. We have twelve schools there. The command and staff school…if you’re an Army officer and you’re going somewhere, you’ve been to Leavenworth, along with a lot of international students. And it really forges a bond for a lot of international cooperation if we have to have that, depending upon what’s happening in the world. And why on Earth they would want to bring 100 of the worst of the worst to Fort Leavenworth, number one, we have a military prison there. That’s why they’d want to do it, but we’ve have to move 463 of those folks out, put the 100 in. We’ve already been informed by some of the Muslim countries that send their officers to our command and staff school they wouldn’t send them. But it would tear at the mission of Fort Leavenworth, and for what?

CPL: Right.

PR: I don’t understand…well, I do understand for what, because when the President came in, that’s one of the first executive orders that he issued. He made a big…

CPL: Mistake.

PR: …to do about the fact that there was torture at Gitmo. I’ve been to Gitmo. Sam Brownback, our other Senator, has been to Gitmo at least twice. I viewed interrogations. That…number one, we ought to keep Gitmo. He can’t do that,…

CPL: Yeah.

PR: …because the far left won’t permit it. They’re going to say I’m sorry, they identify it with Abu Ghraib and all of that. That’s ridiculous.

CPL: And a real slur on our fighting men and women and our intelligence officials, if you ask me.

PR: Well, all the people that work very, very hard under very, very difficult circumstances to do this interrogation and keep America safe…

CPL: Right.

PR: Now the next thing comes, you have a commission to try to do this. Well, the commission has delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed. Well, what’s the big surprise? Nobody wants to take these folks.

CPL: Yeah.

PR: I mean, look at their background, and look at why on Earth would you take these folks. A few of them said okay, their home countries would take them back. Guess what? The detainees didn’t want to go back to their home countries.

CPL: Right, which tells you a lot right there.

PR: Exactly.

CPL: I think France offered to take maybe one, and all these foreign countries that President Obama was supposed to be resetting our relations with, apparently don’t seem inclined to indulge him when it comes to these…

PR: All this for world opinion.

CPL: Right.

PR: And if we’re going to hang our hat on world opinion with every foreign policy or national security decision we make, we’re in trouble.

CPL: Absolutely. It seems to me we can be popular, or we can be safe. Sometimes, it’s hard to be both.

PR: Yes, ma’am.

CPL: And so…well Senator, talk to me a little bit. I know you’re up for re-election in (2014) But talk to me a little bit about 2010. Do you have any feelings yet about how the politics are shaping up?

PR: Hope springs eternal. I’m from Kansas. The farmer never put the seed in the ground if he didn’t think he’d have a crop, and I think we’ve got a big crop coming. We’ve got some excellent candidates coming.

CPL: Recruiting good?

PR: Yes, the recruiting is good. John Cornyn from Texas is doing a great job as our campaign chairman. He’s got some very good candidates out there, more coming. Same thing on the House side. The key, obviously, the key for me is the Senate. We need at least five, six, seven, eight, hopefully even more Senators. If the Democrats continue to overreach, if the Democrats continue to spend, spend, spend, if the Democrats continue to say I’m sorry, but the government’s taking over this particular part of your life, I think 2010 could be a great year for Republicans if we espouse those theories, get back to Reaganism, and I think we would have one heck of a year. So I’m pretty excited about it, and I can tell you that those who are having the hangdong blues, or singing that basically about two or three months ago, we’re pretty excited now.

CPL: Yup, I think there’s every reason for optimism. And of course, if you want to get more involved, you can go to www.nrsc.org to contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Then as you get ready for 2014, www.robertsforsenate.com. And Senator Roberts, I can’t thank you enough for joining us in studio here at the Hugh Hewitt Show. Always an honor to have someone who obviously stands for the principles you do.

End of interview.

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