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Mitt Romney on the national debate over Obamacare

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

HH: Joined now by former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Governor Romney, welcome back to the program, always a pleasure.

MR: Thanks, Hugh. It’s good to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Tell me what your thoughts are as we watch the debate over President Obama’s proposed radical revisions to American health care are.

MR: Well, I think he’s going way beyond what the American people think is right, and way beyond what’s necessary. I think we all recognize that we have a problem, that people are worried that if they lose their job, they would lose their insurance. That’s a real problem, and having a lot of people without insurance is a problem. But we can get people insured, and we can take away the worry of people losing their coverage without having to have the government get into the insurance business, and ultimately move to a single-payer system. That is the wrong way to go, and I think America’s responding the way you’d expect, which is hey, we value our independence. We do not want government taking over health care.

HH: Now Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you oversaw a massive health care revision to the state law. Has that worked? And what does it have in common or not in common with President Obama’s proposals?

MR: Well, there are a number of features about it that I think are working quite well. One, we have been able to get virtually all of our citizens insured, and no one in Massachusetts has to worry that if they were to lose their job, that they would lose their insurance. That’s a very comforting thing. They can hold onto their insurance, or buy a private plan that they can keep with them all their life at a reasonable price. Those are very good things. The cost of our system has been about 1 1/2% of the state budget, about $350 million dollars. So it doesn’t have to break the bank. My plan actually would have been a zero cost proposal, but my friends in the legislature decided to add a few more benefits than I thought were necessary. That’s the nature of the democratic process. But getting people insured does not have to break the bank, and it does not require government insurance. The thing I like about our plan in Massachusetts is you people who want insurance get private, free market insurance. There is no government option, there is no government insurance plan. And that’s where Barack Obama has gone wrong. His plan costs way too much, it’s a trillion dollar mistake, and he gets the government in the insurance business, and they should not be there.

HH: Our mutual friend, Tim Pawlenty, has taken some shots. Some people think it’s early maneuvering for 2012, Governor Romney, about the Massachusetts plan. I’m sure you noted those. Are they fair criticisms?

MR: You know, I’m sure a number of the criticisms that are spoken about our plan are fair. There are a number of adjustments that certainly need to be made from time to time, and we said that at the time we put the bill in place. There’s some things about it I don’t like that actually I vetoed at the time that the bill was coming through. My veto was overridden. That’s the way things work in the world of politics. So I don’t mind people pointing out places where they think we could make improvements. But I’m pretty proud of the fact that we got our citizens insured, and that we did it without breaking the bank, and that we proved that you don’t have to get the government in the insurance business to get our citizens insured. And now the big task, which is the other 90% of the job, is figuring out how to get health care costs from rising through the roof. And that’s, I think, a problem that everybody recognizes. We just can’t have costs going up and up and up. And I think it’s one of the criticisms most people have of the Obama plan, which is it does virtually nothing to stop the growth in health care costs. Nor did ours, by the way. We got everybody insured, but getting health costs reined in is the big challenged, and there are a number of ideas out there now that I think have a lot of merit. But Barack Obama’s plan is certainly not going to help.

HH: Now before I move to the specifics of the Obama proposals, the federal system allows states like Massachusetts to innovate. We take what’s good, and we spread, and that which doesn’t work doesn’t spread. That’s what we did with welfare reform in the 90s. Does Obamacare preempt a process that really needs to replicate across the other states as it happened in Massachusetts?

MR: Yeah, that’s the sad thing, and I know when I was running for president, I was criticized because I said look, in solving the issue of our health care problems, I’d like to let states have more flexibility, and use money we’re sending them in Medicaid, and then payments to care for the poor called dish payments. I’d like them to be able to use those funds as they see fit. Let’s learn from their experiments before we put in place a federal one size fits all plan. And you know, I continue to believe that as we deal with something as important as health care, that having a few Congressmen draft a bill that no one has a chance to read, including the Obama administration, and then saying this is now going to be the future for health care for all Americans, that’s just crazy. So I’m a big believer that experimentation should occur at the state level, that states like ours that have had some experience should be examined thoroughly. The good, you know, kept, the bad thrown out. There’s no question there’s some aspects in the Massachusetts plan I’d like to see changed. I said it at the time. So yeah, I’m afraid that the Obama plan basically says hey everybody, all the states, you all step aside. We’re going to get rid of federalism when it comes to health care, and that would be a huge mistake.

HH: Today, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer penned a column in USA Today that includes these two paragraphs. “However, it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue. These tactics have included hanging in effigy one Democratic member of Congress in Maryland, and protestors holding a sign displaying a tombstone with the name of another Congressman in Texas where protestors also shouted just say no, drowning out those who wanted to hold a substantive discussion. These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views, but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task before.” The headline, Un-American Attacks Can’t Derail Health Care Debate, is causing enormous controversy. What do you make of the merits of the Speaker and the majority leader’s comments today, Governor Romney?

MR: Well, I must admit, that with all the years that I’ve watched politics in this country, there’s always been a very healthy debate. And sometimes, there is good information and bad information, but that’s the nature of a debate. People are going back and forth with their various viewpoints, and ultimately, we settle on what we think is the right thing. I think it’s in some respects a little amusing to watch the folks on the left so critical of demonstrations of political discussion. Demonstrations and energy and anger has always been sent from the left, and has been lauded by the media. The mainstream media, when I was a young man, put a young person on the cover and said the America’s youth, that’s the man of the year because they’ve been so disruptive and stood up to the power of the nation. And funny thing that when people from the right and the conservative world stand up and finally express some anger at this extraordinary health care takeover, the liberals are having a hard time and crying foul. But gosh, they’ve been playing this game for many, many years. Actually, as I think about this kind of debate and the rigor of this debate, it goes back to the time of Adams and Jefferson. You know, these guys were hammer and tong back there, and that’s just part of the political process. Get used to it, don’t cry about it.

HH: Big Pharma has entered the list on the side of Obamacare, and has committed $150-$200 million, surprising a lot of people, that they are doing so. I got an e-mail today from a neurologist in San Diego saying as a consequence, he will no longer meet with any pharmaceutical representative until they stop this, and is urging me to urge other doctors not to meet with pharmaceutical reps until they get out of this game, because it’s going to kill his practice. Are you surprised by big pharma is going hard left on this, Governor Romney?

MR: You know, I don’t know company by company how they line up, but I do believe that they have counted the noses, and they say look, there are 60 Democrats in the Senate, they have a supermajority in both houses, and they are going to put through a health care bill, and there’s nothing Republicans can do to stop it. Democrats, I think they’re saying, pharma’s saying Democrats are going to get behind Obama. He made this his signature campaign pledge. He has to have a bill, and therefore, they’re going to get something through, and we better cozy up to him, hold our nose, and hold out for as good a deal as we can possibly get. I think they’re calculating what’s in their best financial interest. What is unfortunately missing, I think, from their calculation is that what’s in the best interest of the American people and the American economy and the American homeowner. And I’m saddened by the fact that I think they’re counting dollars rather than counting their patients and their doctors.

HH: Seniors seem to have mobilized against this. Have you ever seen a bill pass over even lukewarm opposition of seniors, much less the kind of aggressive opposition that we’ve seen in the last two weeks, Mitt Romney?

MR: Well, I must admit if the seniors really say wait a second, we do not want to see this kind of wholesale change in the health care system in this country, we are not comfortable with it, I think if Congressmen and Senators hear a strong plea from the seniors, and they get e-mails and letters, and they see an outcry from seniors, I think they’re going to say whoa, wait a second, particularly the blue dog Democrats are going to say hey, you know, I just got sent here to Washington because I said I was a conservative Democrat. And if it turns out that this is going to kill me, well, I’m going to be out of office. That I think is the only real strong prospect for stopping this huge power grab that the Obama administration has in store for health care, and that is getting conservative Democrats to say wait a second, my constituents are speaking loud and clear, I’m not going to go against them.

HH: Last question, you’re on the road a lot, Mitt Romney, for Republicans who are bracing for 2009 in Virginia and in New Jersey, and the 2010 elections. Are they united on health care? Are they united in their opposition to a government plan?

MR: I haven’t heard a single Republican say that they’re in favor of the Barack Obama government insurance plan. I haven’t heard anybody say they want to do that. Republicans have different views. Republicans have put out different health care plans. Senator Bob Bennett, together with Senator Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, put together a health care bill, has a very interesting aspect to it I think is interesting. Then there others, Paul Ryan has come out with a bill. So there are a number of plans, but no one I know of is in favor of this Barack Obama government insurance option.

HH: Mitt Romney, always a pleasure, thank you, Governor.

End of interview.

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