The debate that divided the Senate along sharply partisan lines Saturday night carried over into a crackling Sunday conversation about health care policy and politics.
“Yes,” was freshman Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s short answer when asked if, at the end of the Senate debate, he would vote in favor of comprehensive health care reform even if he had compelling evidence that such a vote would cost him his seat in next year’s midterm elections.
That was one of the many glimpses at the raw politics of health care reform. The tough policy divides are many too, and with all the partisan barbs back and forth also came some informative exchanges about the pros and cons of the bills as they now stand, and a number of ideas about how senators of both parties believe their chamber’s version can be improved. We’ll touch on a few here, but also suggest following the links to the Sunday transcripts to get a more comprehensive look.
After health care, some sound of note on Afghanistan – both the president’s pending decision on sending more troops and new proposals from some congressional Democrats to impose a new “war tax” to pay for military operations overseas.
First, though, health care gets the bulk of our Sound of Sunday showcase:
Democrats who support a public option are not willing to concede that to get a bill through the Senate, they will have to compromise more:
Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D-OH), on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“In the end, I don’t want four Democratic senators dictating to the other 56 of us and to the country when the public option has this much support that it’s not going to be in it... people want every option. If we’re telling people you have to buy insurance, we shouldn’t tell them, you’ve got to buy insurance, we shouldn’t tell them you’ve got to buy insurance from a private insurance company. But in the end, I think that all four of our colleagues surveyed this, looked at this bill in the end and said, I don’t think they want to be on the wrong side of history.”
But opponents of a government-run insurance option made clear they think they will have the upper hand in Senate negotiations:
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) on NBC's "Meet the Press"
“We have a health care system that has real troubles. But we have an economic system that is in real crisis. I don't want to fix the problems in our health care system in a way that creates more of an economic crisis…if we create a government insurance company, it's going to run a deficit and it's only the taxpayers that are going to pay for it.”
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) on ABC’s “This Week”
“It depends on what the public option is. I'm opposed to the public option of where the states have to opt out, I said I would look at a public option where states have to opt in. That if they opted in, it wouldn't apply to every other state.”
Sen. Brown made clear he agrees with labor unions critical of how the Senate pays for its bill – especially the fee on so-called Cadillac insurance plans – and several others weighed in on whether the House or Senate language, or yet another compromise, will carry the day on the dicey issue of abortion coverage.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D-OH), on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“I would prefer that we look more at the version that the House did on a surtax on people making $500,000 a year or more. Even with the House proposal, I know we're talking - when you talk about either bill, but even with the House proposal, it's still - the tax rate is still significantly less for upper-income people than it was before the Bush tax cuts for the rich that were unpaid for and caused us huge budget, in part, with the war and the Medicare privatization, that caused these huge budget deficits.”
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“We shouldn’t be using health care reform to rewrite long-standing policy from the federal government on abortion. It’s just not right. It’s not the place we should be doing it.”
Republicans held firm in their argument that the Democratic plan would grow government and not slow health care costs.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Minority Leader), on CNN’s State of the Union”
“The Democrats simply don't want to do incremental changes. John, we feel that we ought to go step by step to fix our current health care system. We do not believe, take - the government taking over one-sixth of our economy, completely restructuring one-sixth of our economy is a good idea at any time. It is a particularly bad idea when we're looking at double-digit unemployment. This bill is a job-killer.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on ABC’s “This Week”
“This bill creates 70 new government agencies with thousands of new bureaucrats, with - I'm talking about the Senate bill - with 1,597 different instances where the secretary's mandated to write rules and regulations. If you think that isn't going to get between patients and their doctors, I have a whole lot of swamp land in Oklahoma I'd like to sell you.”
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on NBC's "Meet the Press"
“I think this bill is a disaster for our country. President Obama said it would be under 900 billion dollars. It is not. President Obama said it would not add to the deficit. It will. President Obama said no one would lose the health care that they have, and they will. This is a terrible bill.”
There was another round of controversy over the government advisory panel’s recommendation that women wait until they are 50 - not 40 - to begin having mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Among those speaking out were two breast cancer survivors.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), on ABC’s “This Week”
“We have to make sure that we’re not forgetting about the people. And that’s what the task force forgot about this week, is that we’re not thinking about big, amorphous blobs of people. Making these recommendations – say that we can trade one life to save the angst and anxiety in a larger group of women - that’s totally inappropriate. But that’s why major experts, medical experts, the cancer society, the colon foundation all came out against this.”
Carly Fiorina, (R) California Senate Candidate, on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“I found my own lump two weeks after it cleared a mammogram. Had I followed these new recommendations and not received another mammogram for two full years I’m over 50, I could well not be sitting here. The truth is all of these preventive techniques self-exams, mammogram, when necessary in my case I had to have several, are saving lives. Who is to say that a nameless, faceless bureaucrat government in Washington, D.C. should determine that my life is too expensive to save?”
And on Afghanistan, Republicans again asked why President Obama was taking so long to decide how many troops, and there was some back and forth as well over calls by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and other Democrats for some kind of war tax to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Minority Leader) on CNN’s “State of the Union”
John King: “You don't rule out some kind of a war tax?”
Sen. McConnell: “I do, because I think we ought - this is about our national security, you know? The Democrats are willing to bust the budget to pass a domestic program that the American people are against, but all of a sudden find it offensive to do something that is absolutely essential to the security of Americans here in the United States, which is to keep on offense in the war on terror.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Texas), on “Fox News Sunday”
“Show a sense of urgency and come on up to Congress and tell us exactly what he plans to do, not in an exit strategy, but in a success strategy, ask for bipartisan support, try to get the country to follow him in that mission all the way through to the end. President Bush wasn't able to get that bipartisan support. Iraq became Bush's war. President Obama wants to make sure, I would think, that this doesn't become Obama's war. That would not be good for the countries.”
On a much lighter note, a rare moment of political agreement between our exclusive political duo, James Carville and Mary Matalin on the topic of Newsweek’s controversial cover picture of Sarah Palin.
Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Mary Matalin on CNN’s “State of the Union”
Carville: “I think you pose for a picture, it’s just in the public domain.”
Matalin: “Ok, you can agree on this. She looked good on it.”
Carville: “She does.”
Matalin: “All right.”
Carville: “Aint no doubt about that. You and her are the two best-looking women in the Republican Party.”
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday and the week ahead,