Looking for a compromise on health care reform, the Senate's so-called Gang of Six, three Republicans and three Democrats will be meeting today. The six negotiators, who are also members of the Senate Finance Committee, will be considering a plan by the committee’s chairman to drop the public option and tax the priciest insurance plans.
One member of the Gang of Six is Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
John Roberts: During the August recess, you said of the efforts to craft a bipartisan bill in the Senate, “I don't think it's going to be possible to work it out with the administration because they're all over the field.” Now that you're back there on Capitol Hill, are you going to walk away from this or are you going to stick with the Gang of Six and try to come up with a plan?
Grassley: Well, we won't know until we meet this afternoon at 2:30. … The good and bad of the president speaking this week is we’ve had to speed up the work of our group to have something ready. … And that's bad because we should have probably taken a little more time than just over this weekend. And then the other issue is that the president, if he does come out with specifics, probably would make up for that criticism that I gave during August that they were all over the ballpark. And they were all over the ballpark.
Roberts: Now, one of the proposals being floated – and it was handed to you over the weekend – is from Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the committee. It has no public plan but non-profit co-ops that would provide insurance for people who are uninsured. It expands Medicaid eligibility as well, and then levies a fee on insurance companies who provide high-end Cadillac plans to help pay for the overall reform. Is that something that you can support?
Grassley: Well, one thing about the co-ops, if they're going to end up just the way we've known co-ops for 150 years in America, the answer is yes because they're consumer-driven and all the consumers benefit from it. They're organized by members. There's no federal government running the co-ops, etc. And that's the way that Senator Conrad has devised them and I've been discussing that with him and along the lines of what he suggested, it's very favorable. And just in case, that somebody comes along and wants a federal board, the federal government to accept risks so we end up with a health care Fannie Mae, then that would be a no-no for me.
In regard to the tax that you asked about, the only thing I would suggest is both Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation has said that those costs will be passed on to the premium holders. So it's going to drive up the cost of insurance, maybe at a level of insurance that we shouldn't be subsidizing in the first place. But the case is that the extent to which consumers pay for it, that is a concern as opposed to if the corporations would have had to pay for it, the people providing the insurance, it probably would be a better approach.
Roberts: Senator, the president has this speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow evening. He kind of laid down the groundwork for that in yesterday's speech to the AFL-CIO, in which he took on people like yourself who have been critical of his plans for health care. He said, “What are you going to do? What's your answer? What's your solution? And you know what? They don't have one.” The president charges you don’t have a solution. Let me ask you now, what is your solution to health care reform? What's your plan?
Grassley: Well, don't forget, I've been working the last three or four months with Senator Baucus one-on-one and then later with the Group of Six to come up with a bipartisan plan. And it seems to me that the bipartisan approach is the best. And if you look at the president during his campaign, he wanted to be post-partisan and it seems to me like those statements yesterday were very partisan, contrary to what he promised in the last campaign. But I would be working towards a bipartisan effort.
And if we don't get a bipartisan effort, then of course there are so many things in what I've been working towards that could easily go into my plan or a Republican plan and then don't forget there's already four Republican plans out there introduced by other members of our caucus. But because we're the minority party, you at CNN and other places haven't given our plans much publicity because I suppose we're in the minority and you want to help the president so much so that I hope that if we don't have a bipartisan plan, that you'll start giving some attention to the Republican plans that are out there.
Roberts: Well, I can assure you Senator Grassley, it's not our intention to help any politician, president, you, anyone else. We're just merely telling people what is out there and we will re-double our efforts to illuminate Republican plans.
Grassley: Thank you.
Roberts: You're up for re-election next year. You recently sent out a fundraising letter in which you said to your constituents, “We ask for your immediate support in helping me defeat Obama-care.” Ezra Klein from the Washington Post took a look at that and said, speaking of you, “He is creating a campaign premised on his role in stopping Obama's health care reform effort. It is not clear how he could pivot to save it, even if he wanted to do so.” Have you left yourself with this pre-election campaign, Senator, any room for compromise?
Grassley: Absolutely, yes. Because you know what Obama-care is in the public's minds, my constituents' minds? It's all that public option. It's all the eventual nationalization of health care in America, run entirely by the federal government. And that letter associates Obama-care with the public option and the people of my state and I think most of the people in this country don't want the government to take over federal health care.