HH: We begin today with the leader of the Republicans in the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell, Senator from Kentucky. Senator McConnell, always a pleasure, thank you for joining us.
MM: Glad to be with you.
HH: Is it all over for health care in the United States Senate? Is this a done deal now?
MM: No, it’s not a done deal at all. This bill that came out of the Finance Committee yesterday of course is already gone. The bill that we take up on the floor is being written in the Majority Leader’s Conference Room, in consultation with the White House. So I think the significance of that vote in the Finance Committee was overstated. And even the one Republican who voted to move the bill out of committee said she was just doing it to move the process along, and has been very insistent that there be total transparency, which includes not only the opportunity for the public to read it, but for there to be a score, in other words, how much is it going to cost, by the Congressional Budget Office. So I think that you could say that it limped out of committee with minimal enthusiasm, and the real bill is now being written in the conference room of the Majority Leader. What can we say for sure, Hugh, about the bill? Let me tell you what’s absolutely certain to be in the final version – higher premiums, higher taxes, drastic and dramatic cuts in Medicare. None of that adds up to reform.
HH: Senator McConnell, in terms of Senator Snowe whom you referenced, there’s been a lot of criticism of her. I have said wait and see. If she doesn’t vote for cloture, she’ll be my hero again. Do you think it is still possible that she will resist cloture on whatever emerges from Harry Reid’s conference room?
MM: Well, we’ll find out, but you know, the party that has the greatest number of members agonizing over this is not the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party. You know, there are 10-12 Democrats who are apoplectic about this bill. And I think there’s probably been more focus on Senator Snowe’s vote to simply move the process forward, than there has been on the 10-12 Democrats who may not vote for the bill at all.
HH: Now yesterday, Joe Liebermann said that he would not vote for the Baucus bill. Do you think that means he’ll also vote against cloture?
MM: Well, I don’t know what the Democrats will do on procedure. But let’s assume we do get on the bill. I don’t think we should get on this bill, and we will try to defeat cloture, which for your listeners, is try to prevent them from getting sixty votes to get on the bill. But let’s assume we do get on the bill. We’re not going to allow this to be jammed through. In the last eight or ten years, we’ve spent eight weeks on an energy bill, seven weeks on no child left behind. Just in the last Congress, we spent four weeks on a farm bill. Any effort to try to jam this thing through before everybody’s had an opportunity to read it, before we’ve had a chance to have numerous amendments, will be viewed by the American people as a railroad job. And I don’t think they’re going to take it on an issue this important. I mean, this is one of those unique issues that everybody in the country cares about – health care – every one. And I don’t think they’re going to be able to jam this through the American people without full-fledged discussion and debate.
HH: Now Senator McConnell, this audience, at least, don’t know what the Democrats will do on procedure. But let’s assume we do get on the bill. I don’t think we should get on this bill, and we will try to defeat cloture, which for your listeners, is try to prevent them from getting sixty votes to get on the bill. But let’s assume we do get on the bill. We’re not going to allow this to be jammed through. In the last eight or ten years, we’ve spent eight weeks on an energy bill, seven weeks on no child left behind. Just in the last Congress, we spent four weeks on a farm bill. Any effort to try to jam this thing through before everybody’s had an opportunity to read it, before we’ve had a chance to have numerous amendments, will be viewed by the American people as a railroad job. And I don’t think they’re going to take it on an issue this important. I mean, this is one of those unique issues that everybody in the country cares about – health care – every one. And I don’t think they’re going to be able to jam this through the American people without full-fledged discussion and debate.
HH: Now Senator McConnell, this audience, at least, and I think generally in the United States, are very aware of the cloture vote. They believe that is the vote. I believe that’s the vote. I believe this is a lost cause if they get sixty votes.
MM: Well, there’ll be two. There’ll be cloture on motion to get on the bill, and then there’ll be cloture on the, you know, to get off the bill. So there’ll be two opportunities at a minimum for the majority to demonstrate they can produce sixty.
HH: And so, when does that first vote come up? Because that, to me, is…
MM: Well, that’ll be up to Reid, and what we’re insisting on is that before we even get to the issue of whether we proceed to the bill, it needs to be on the internet a minimum of 72 hours. It needs to have a score from the Congressional Budget Office. Bear in mind, what they scored was a concept paper in the Finance Committee. That matter that they voted out of committee yesterday was not a bill. It was a concept paper, which then has to be produced, has to be reduced to bill language. I don’t think they’ll ever even reduce that bill, that concept paper to bill language. The one they’re going to do is the one that’s in Reid’s office right now being written in consultation with the White House.
HH: But to gear up America to resist the first cloture vote, to get on the bill, people need to kind of have a sense of when Harry Reid’s going to try and slip it through. And do you have any sense of that?
MM: I think he’ll probably try to go to the bill sometime before the end of the month. That would be my guess.
HH: And how much are you talking with those 10-12 Democrats, who you may or may not want to name, about stopping it right then?
MM: Yeah, well, I’m not going to name them, but you know, they’re looking at the public opinion polls, too, and I’m sure you’ve reported to your listeners how the public is dramatically turning against this bill. And we don’t operate in a vacuum up here. You know, everybody’s interested in public opinion, and public opinion has an enormous impact on what we do. And there’s a whole lot more queasiness on the Democratic side on this debate than there is on the Republican side. I can tell you that.
HH: Senator McConnell, the Price Waterhouse Coopers study came out and showed that the average family of four under the Baucus bill, the least offensive of the Democratic proposals, will go from $13,000 dollars a year to $26,000 dollars a year. Democrats attacked the messenger. Do you believe the Price Waterhouse Coopers study?
MM: Of course. They’re stating the obvious. You know, I began the interview by saying what do we know for sure about this bill, and the first thing I said is that it’s going to produce higher health insurance premiums. We know it’s going to produce higher taxes on both individuals and businesses. And we know these are going to be the most dramatic cuts in Medicare ever even conceived of. That we know for sure will be the core of whatever bill emerges from Harry Reid’s office.
HH: What sort of dramatic cuts in Medicare do you envision happening if the Baucus bill, or anything like it, passes?
MM: Well, they’re raising taxes on medical devices, for example. It’s going to drive up the cost of medical devices, everything from Q-Tips to oxygen tanks. The price is going to go up. That of course will be passed along to the consumer, $40 billion dollars in tax increases on medical devices, on everything from Q-Tips to oxygen tanks, $8 billion even levied on hospice services. This is, the hospitals are apoplectic about having to eat all of these additional costs, which then of course end up being passed along to the customers, many of them, the 85% of Americans who have health insurance. So it’ll be passed along in terms of their insurance premiums. I thought the whole idea, Hugh, was to drive health care costs down? We know for sure that this bill is going to drive the health care costs up.
HH: Speaking specifically of Medicare, though, how will Medicare be impacted by the Baucus proposal?
MM: We know that Medicare itself is already going broke. It’ll go broke in seven years. And even if you could argue that we ought to cut Medicare a half a trillion dollars over ten years, at least if you were making that argument, you’d be making it to sustain Medicare itself, not to finance a whole new program for a whole new set of Americans who are not in Medicare. Do you follow me?
MM: Grandma’s Medicare is being raided to provide funds for those who are currently uninsured. A significant percentage of those people make $75,000 dollars a year and more, and could buy it and don’t, and many of them are younger people who could buy it but don’t, they think they’re going to live forever. A significant number of the uninsured are actually Medicaid-eligible. That’s the program for the poor. They aren’t signed up. So you know, they’re going to take draconian whacks out of Medicare not to make Medicare more sustainable, but to finance a whole new program that extends government health care even further.
HH: Prediction from you, Senator McConnell. When the first cloture vote comes up, if the Baucus bill has been, is the same or has gotten worse, do you expect you’ll hold the Republican conference and at least one Democrat to vote for cloture?
MM: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction, because it’s a moving target. I can tell you that 39 of the 40 Republicans don’t like anything about this bill. And so I’m optimistic we’ll have most if not all, and then it’ll be up to the Democrats to see if they basically want to defy public opinion and go forward with it.
HH: Now let me turn very quickly to Afghanistan. Is it going to end up that General McChrystal will never testify on his recommendation to the Congress?
MM: Well, I hope he’ll be allowed to testify at some point. More importantly, I hope his advice will be followed. We know what it is. We know that he recommends a counterinsurgency strategy the same as was finally successful in Iraq after we tried counterterrorism for a while. And just for your listeners, the difference is counterterrorism means you try to surgically go after bad guys, but you don’t ever control any land. We tried that in Iraq. It didn’t work. John McCain deserves a lot of credit for continuing to push for full-fledged counterinsurgency strategy. That’s what we did with the surge, which was orchestrated by David Petraeus, General Petraeus, and General McChrystal. They are the two generals who are now apparently, and the reason we know that is because actually, Bob Woodward wrote about it, who are recommending the same strategy for Afghanistan that worked in Iraq. And the President is obvious agonizing over this decision. I don’t know why it’s such an agonizing decision. It’s clearly the right thing to do, and if the President chooses to follow the advice of General Petraeus and General McChrystal, we’ll, my side will be behind him.
HH: Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, thanks for the update. We’ll talk to you as that cloture vote gets close, the first one. Hopefully, we can defeat this bill then. And hopefully, you’ll have the vote to do it bipartisan-wise.
End of interview.