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Mitch McConnell on the prospects of slowing down Obamacare in the Senate

Thursday, July 30, 2009
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HH: Joined now by Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell, welcome, it’s always a pleasure to have you.

MM: Glad to be with you.

HH: Senator, what happened today in the Senate Finance Committee on the health care? It’s such an important issue to our people. What’s going on?

MM: Nothing happened. And I think that’s pretty good, because we’re hearing from the American people. There’s an interesting NBC poll that somebody just e-mailed to me that you may have already been talking about, I don’t know, but it says that 42% of Americans now say the President’s plan on health care is a bad idea, which is a ten point increase since last month. Only 36% say it’s a good idea. What’s going on here, Hugh, is that we’re hearing from our constituents all across the country, that they’re not at all convinced that this is the right way to go. And we are, in many ways, as we should be, a reflection of the views of our constituents. And I think you see a lot of angst on the Democratic side, and they’re looking for any Republican or Republicans they can find to make this thing bipartisan in order to try to sell it to the American people. And Republicans aren’t buying it, and the American people aren’t buying it.

HH: Now Senator McConnell, the National Center for Policy Analysis is running an online petition. 870,000 people have signed this opposing Obamacare. Do such efforts matter?

MM: They do. They do. I know that people sometimes feel that their views are not important here, but they are. I mean, let’s take this health care issue. As so many of the health care stakeholders, that is the people directly involved, at least through their Washington representatives, have basically climbed on board – the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Organization, you know, have basically crawled on board this in one way or another. But it still isn’t working, because Americans get it. They understand that the quality of American health care will go down if we install Canadian-style government controlled health care. They’re very skeptical that it will do anything about cost, which is the real issue here, is the cost, not quality. Americans believe, correctly, that we have the finest quality health care in the world. It is costly, and there are a lot of things you can do to address costs. One of the things I always mention first is doing something about junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals, which are not in any of the Democratic bills, because they don’t want to offend their trial lawyer friends.

HH: Now let me ask you a little inside baseball, Senator McConnell. I’ve been warning people that even if the Senate Finance Committee came out with a bill that was much improved over the House bill, and that wouldn’t be hard to do, but let’s say you got rid of the government option, and you did not have the rationing that the House plan has, but something came out, and the Senate agreed to send that to conference. Whatever comes back from conference, is that subject to cloture as well, because that is…

MM: It’s subject to cloture, but it’s not amendable, and we only have 40 members of my party. And even if we were entirely unified, we would not have enough votes to prevent it. So it will get worse. I mean, the best bill you might ever see would be some kind of bill in the Finance Committee that would get worse in the course of the legislative process.

HH: And so don’t Senators Grassley and Snowe and Enzi, who are the three lead Republicans, are they negotiating with that certainty in mind, that Henry Waxman will just, I mean, he’ll gut anything they put together.

MM: Well they’re, you know, in their defense, they’re not free agents. They’re reporting to us. We just had a meeting this afternoon where two of the three of them were there talking to us about what’s been going on. I don’t think they’re going to sign onto a deal that a vast majority of my conference can’t agree to. And we don’t, so far, like much of anything we see in this big government, high tax, mandate approach that the Democratic majority and the President would like to pass.

HH: Well, now let’s talk a little politics here. I know the Republicans are opposing this because it’s bad policy, but I also think it’s going to turn out to be very bad politics for the Democrats as you mentioned earlier. But today, the Republicans got another jolt, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, great American, announced she’s going to retire and resign from the Senate very soon and go off to run for governor. And your friend, Jim Bunning, just retired in Kentucky. And so we’ve got a lot of openings, we’ve got a lot of contested races. What’s it look like for 2010, Senator McConnell?

MM: Well, the NPR poll that came out today, there’s a question that’s on all polls called the party generic ballot. It just says would you today be more likely to vote for a Republican or Democrat for Congress. My party was down 12 in November of 2008, in which we had a very bad election. The NPR poll today on that issue, we were up 1. The Battleground poll, which is taken by a Democrat and a Republican pollster, both of whom are highly respected and normally do partisan races, had us down three, that is down three compared to down twelve last November. And among voters most likely to vote, this bipartisan poll had us up by five. I think the political environment is improving dramatically for Republicans. There’s not an election this year, so we’re concentrating on doing the people’s business and not the campaign, but you asked me a purely political question. The polls look better than they have since 2004.

HH: And that good bit of news, thank you for that, and good luck in keeping the Finance Committee from doing more harm, the Hippocratic Oath for Senators. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, always a pleasure, Mr. Leader.

End of interview.

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