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Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander on the Obama administration’s leaning towards an enemies list, and the importance of the failed health care vote today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

HH: We begin with Senator Lamar Alexander of the great state of Tennessee, third-ranking Republican in the United States Senate. Senator Alexander, always a pleasure, welcome back, Senator.

LA: Thanks, Hugh, good to talk with you.

HH: We’ve got a lot to cover. I want to start, though, with a two part request for a hearing. We’d like a hearing, we Angels fans, into the call last night at third base by Tim McClelland on Jorge Posada and Robbie Cano. I don’t know if you saw that. Did you?

LA: No, I didn’t see it. I’m big into football.

HH: It may be the worst call in baseball history other than Ed Armbrister, so I’m looking for that here. And the second part of the hearing would be into the fact that we’ve got C.C. Sabathia going against Cliff Lee in the opener. They’re both Indians, but they’re not pitching for the Indians anymore.

LA: You’re in a different sport. I’m still trying to figure out the Southeastern Conference call that kept Georgia from beating LSU in the football game the other day.

HH: Well, if you want to tack that on as part three of the hearings…hey, Senator, the serious part of the day is the White House, the President, has gone, you know, I used to work for Richard Nixon, so I know what it means to say Nixonian. They’ve gone enemies list on Fox News.

LA: Well, I said something about that today on the Senate floor. I’m not sure they’ve gone enemies list yet, but what I said was they’re on that path. And you and I both know that that leads to no good. I mean, you can start with Politico’s report that they want to neuter the United States Chamber of Commerce, and they’re going to boycott Fox News, then the insurance companies disagree with them, so they’re going to take away their antitrust exemption. They put a gag order on the big health care company that advised its beneficiaries that they might have their Medicare Advantage benefits reduced under the health care bill, which is true. The President said he was taking lists of bondholders back when GM and Chrysler were getting bailed out who wouldn’t agree to it. And he’s calling out Senators who disagree with health care, and don’t like the 18 new czars in the White House. And what I said on the Senate floor was that that’s headed in the wrong direction. That’s this bunker mentality where you think everybody’s against you, and characterizing them as enemies. And it didn’t help President Nixon. It ruined his presidency. And it’s not good for the Obama presidency.

HH: Now Jake Tapper of ABC News yesterday challenged Robert Gibbs on this whole effort, and I was glad to see him do that. I think all journalists, left, right, center, opinion journalists, non-opinion journalists, ought to rise up against this sort of thing. Do you think the Obama administration’s going to listen to Jake or to anyone on this?

LA: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I know how they feel. You get in the White House, and you feel like everybody’s after you, and so you have to fight back. But…and then you start pulling more and more things into the White House. But my experience, and I go back forty years to when I was a very junior aide in the Nixon administration, is that you need to push all that out of the White House. Leave all the street brawls to the campaign consultants, and protect the presidency, reserve to it only the very few most important issues. And I think they’re pulling too much into the White House. They’re getting too involved in petty stuff. And I think that detracts from the presidency, and over the long haul, won’t help him or the country.

HH: Let’s talk specifically about the Fox News anger over there. Anita Dunn, you know, she’s the communications director. She made this speech that referenced Mao and Mother Theresa. Glenn Beck has played it. He’s making a big deal about it. It’s a legitimate news story. Are we supposed to not report on, Senator Alexander, interesting aspects and political philosophies of senior White House aides?

LA: Well, you’re supposed to do that, and of course, the Nixon…you know, Republicans don’t like a lot that’s in the New York Times. And sometimes, they don’t like what’s in other newspapers. And sometimes, they complain about it. And in the Nixon administration, they started out just complaining, and they ended up with an enemies list. And it destroyed the presidency. So you’ve got to step back from that, put it into perspective, and focus on the…particularly with the presidency. I mean, the presidency itself should restrict itself to the most important issues. And calling people out who disagree with you doesn’t sound presidential to me.

HH: No, it doesn’t. In fact, I think it would be much better if he were to go on a variety of shows. He did O’Reilly once. He’d be certainly welcome here. He’d be treated with all the respect that the presidency deserves.

LA: Yeah.

HH: …and engage in the conversation. And that conversation right now is about health care. Let’s go there, Senator. Today, a doctor pay bill did not get the 60 votes necessary to advance. Can you explain to our audience the significance of this vote?

LA: That’s not hard to do at all. It was the first vote on health care reform. And what the Democrats proposed was increasing the debt by a quarter of a trillion dollars. And that’s an outrageous thing to do. And whether it’s for fixing the doctor’s reimbursement program, or anything else, we simply cannot add a quarter trillion dollars to the debt, particularly after last weekend’s report that we’ve run up more debt in this one year than we did in the first 200 years of the Republic. So we had all 40 Republicans, and 13 Democrats said no to that.

HH: Now among those Democrats, Kent Conrad, Evan Bayh, a number of the so-called moderates, who you will need to resist cloture when that comes up on whatever Harry Reid cooks up in the back room in the Senate. Have you gotten any hints? Are they opening the window, even, so you can listen below the bar, below the sill, as to what they’re going to come out with in this Reid bill?

LA: Well, the first thing it suggests is that the bill better be what the President said he wanted, which was a bill that did not add one dime to the deficit. And this was really a very cynical trick that they were playing. Fixing the doctors reimbursement plan costs about a quarter of a trillion dollars over ten years, and they were saying oh well, we’ll just pull it out over here and pass it before we start dealing with the health care bill. Well of course, everyone saw through that. This was actually the first vote, and people said no.

HH: Now in terms of the taxes that are embedded with this, we know the devastation to Medicare in the Baucus bill, and all the other bills, but a lot of people are just beginning to wake up, Senator Alexander, to the fact that insurance plans will be taxed under this, and that a lot of average Americans who don’t expect a tax hike are going to get clobbered with one, perhaps as early as January. Is that correct?

LA: Well, that’s correct. I mean, what the bill…and of course, we don’t have a bill yet. But as we see its form, a bill that’s supposed to lower the government’s cost of health care, and lower the cost of premiums, looks like it’s going to raise taxes, raise premiums, and cut Medicare. Specifically, it has nearly a trillion dollars of new taxes on health insurance premiums, and medical devices, and other medical companies. And what the Congressional Budget Office, which is non-partisan, has said, most of those taxes will be passed on in higher premiums to those of us, 250 million of us, who have insurance policies. So instead of reducing the cost of your health care insurance, it’s going to increase it.

HH: Now last question, Senator Alexander, the Food And Drug Administration’s new administrator yesterday, Margaret Hamburg came out and said we’re going to regulate every food package in America, beginning with breakfast cereals and everything else. This is just the latest of these massive steroid-like federal government programs. Is there any resistance to this? Do even your Democratic colleagues say this is not what the American people signed up for?

LA: Well, I actually hadn’t heard that, and most of us want the federal Food and Drug Administration to make sure our food is safe. But what we have too much of is one Washington takeover after another, whether it is banks, insurance companies, car companies. The Obama administration is taking over the whole student loan program, which is a story that we’ll have later, and of course, the health care takeover is what we’re talking about today. I think the American people are saying whoa, this is, we have no checks and balances on this runaway federal government. We don’t want everything taken to Washington, D.C. We are a big, complicated country. We want to make more of our own decisions.

HH: Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, always a pleasure, Senator. Thanks for joining me today.

LA: Thank you, Hugh.

End of interview.

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